According to a 2007 survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving, a broad-based coalition of organizations and corporations, family caregivers spent $5,500 of their own money caring for elders, not counting lost wages. Yet MassHealth has taken the position that family caregivers shouldn't be compensated for the services they provide because family members are “supposed to” take care of their loved ones. Unfortunately, an agency's peculiar 19th-century vision of a moral good doesn't recognize hard truths. It is less expensive to keep elders in the community than for the state to pay for nursing home care. Yet spouses and children of disabled elders who put their personal and financial lives on hold — often for years at a time — lose the opportunity to pay into Social Security and save for their own retirements — thus increasing the risk of real poverty in their old age. They may be unable to pay current bills or help put children through college because they have stepped out of paid employment to care for loved ones.
Now the Massachusetts legislature has a chance to make it clear that this difficult work has true economic and social value. State Senator Mark Montigny and State Representative Kay Khan have introduced An Act to Help Families Care For Elders, House Bill 536, Senate Bill 59. The proposed statute would make it clear that elders could enter into fair and reasonable contracts for care with their loved ones where a medical professional or social worker has documented that the services are required to allow the elder to stay or return to the community. It would recognize the fact that families shouldn't be forced to chose between paying for their own living expenses and caring for a parent. Hearings on this important bill will happen this week.
Please contact your state senator or representative and let him or her know that we shouldn't penalize our elders because they choose to hire a child rather than strangers from an agency to give them care. You can locate your legislator's telephone number and e-mail address by going to the Legislature's main page and scroll down the left side of the page to the links by city or town.