Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving is a new study by the AARP that estimates a value of $450 billion a year for work done by more than 40 million Americans caring for an elderly or disabled loved one. That may be a bargain for society, but it’s a “huge” burden on the family members.
Cymando Henley’s mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as he started college. Now she’s in a wheelchair, and Henley has been taking care of her ever since – for nearly twenty years now – helping her in and out of bed and onto the toilet, and even rolling her over in the middle of the night if she gets uncomfortable. Social programs help pay for about 35 hours a week of in-home health care, but Henley puts in at least that much himself for free, on top of working at a full-time job. Such non-medical care from a professional can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.
How Much Is $450 billion?
It’s such a large number that the AARP report cites several statistics to put it in context:
- $450 billion is more than Medicaid spending in 2009 ($361 billion, which includes federal & state contributions to health care and long term service & support).
- $450 billion nearly matches total Medicare spending in 2009 ($509 billion).
- $450 billion is about 3.2% of the U.S. GDP in 2009 ($14.1 trillion).
- $450 billion is almost as much as the GDP of Belgium, the 20th largest economy in the world ($471 billion in 2009).
Among the impacts are lost worker productivity, reduced earning capacity and retirement income, and increases in caregiver’s own physical and emotional health and related costs. And the increased political demands and budget cuts for home and community-based services place even more responsibilities and economic burdens on families.
In 2009, more than one in four caregivers of adults (27%) reported a moderate to high degree of financial hardship as a result of caregiving.
Family caregiving is finally gaining validity and recognition among policymakers and health professionals as they recognize that aging-in-place at home with family is far less expensive than institutional care. But it calls for identifying and addressing family needs, which the report stresses. Also key is the integration of family caregivers as partners in care.
Self-directed home services are becoming important funding options by allowing older people and disabled adults to manage a budget for their own care. These programs let them hire their own workers, including family and friends, to provide non-medical personal assistance or to buy needed goods and services, such as assistive technologies and transportation.
The report summarizes current federal and state programs and makes recommendations for improvement, based on AARP’s most recent findings.