An aging boomer population, limitations or workforce shortages in the health care or long-term services and supports formal care systems, and the ongoing pandemic are some of the reasons why more and more Americans have found themselves serving as unpaid caregivers for family members or friends.
Not only are more Americans taking on the role of unpaid caregiver, but they are doing so for adult recipients who may have increasingly complex medical or support needs. More than 60% of caregivers report in a 2020 AARP survey that their adult care recipient needs additional help due to long-term physical conditions, while about one-third cite memory problems (such as Alzheimer’s or dementia) as the reason. The on-going pandemic also continues to shape aging-in-place (i.e. at home) demand for services, including home health aides.
While the LTCi industry is universally talking about unpaid family caregivers and the rise in aging in place (i.e. at home), it is not talking about how the economic benefits of aging in place may erode as demand increases and home health costs correspondingly increase without additional resource supply (the most significant resource being home health aides). Many dbas are lower for home health, so there is a built-in economic advantage to aging in place for those policies, but that is not necessarily true.
AARP says many caregivers are taking on the role “without adequate and affordable services and supports in place” and more caregivers than ever say it is “difficult to coordinate their recipient’s care across various providers.”
The challenges caregivers are facing is painfully reflected about in an opinion piece for The New York Times, in which writer Kate Washington* talks about her first-hand experience with the demands of being a caregiver to her husband during and after his cancer diagnosis several years ago. She discusses the emotional/physical toll on caregivers, the insurance benefits limitations and the disparity in access to home- and community-based long-term care and support services, but remains hopeful the Biden-Harris Administration’s coronavirus emergency relief plan (which includes benefits for caregivers) will be a step in the right direction.
All told, carriers are right to continue evaluating wellness programs and aging in place services and supports. But any such efforts would likely benefit from robust caregiver support programs. Increased coordination and collaboration with care providers, particularly those that work in policyholder’s homes, would also yield benefits. In short, we still strongly believe in wellness programs, but that the prudent path forward would be to pursue them with an eye on the severe shortage of caregivers and home care services that we may face in the future.
*Ms. Washington is a writer for the The Sacramento Bee, and her book, “ALREADY TOAST: Caregiving and Burnout in America,” will be released the week of March 15.