New Congressional Caucus Could Move the Ball on Home Health Issues

Home health care issues may gain more attention from federal lawmakers thanks to a newly formed caucus that was announced this week, which includes lawmakers from both major parties and both houses of Congress.

The Assisting Caregivers Today (ACT) caucus was formed by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Reps. Diane Black (R-TN) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM). The caucus will educate members of Congress and push for bills to address issues related to the growing ranks of unpaid family caregivers in the United States, the lawmakers said at a Tuesday press conference in Washington, D.C. 

Availability and access to professional home health care is a crucial piece of the puzzle, Sarita Gupta, co-director of Caring Across Generations and executive director of Jobs with Justice, tells HHCN.

“As the baby boomer population continues to grow, family caregivers can’t do it alone,” Gupta says. “We really need to ensure that we find solutions for more home care workers in the workforce.”

The founding members of the ACT caucus did not provide details about specific policies they will push for, the Washington Post reported. Gupta hopes the group will tackle home care worker payments and how families finance home care.

On the workforce side, Gupta believes there are opportunities to leverage existing programs such as Medicare to help drive sustainable wages for the growing ranks of professional caregivers. These programs and others, as well as tax credits, also could play a part in making home care more affordable for families and those who need services, Gupta says.

She also would like to see the caucus get behind legislation that would provide federal funds for state-level efforts to bring multiple stakeholders together to improve long-term care planning and help people live independently. Gupta says some states, such as Maine, already are launching efforts that include increased Medicare payments to boost wages for home care workers.

Gupta does not have illusions that progress will be swift, given the political gridlock in Washington. But she believes the caucus is a positive step toward needed change.

“I think the caucus can begin to move the discussions within Congress,” she says. “There’s more to lose and the cost will be greater in the long-term if we as a nation don’t really grapple with this issue. In terms of educating and informing key policymakers about what’s at stake, the formation of the caucus is positive. What will make it powerful is if it’s buoyed by work at state level.”

Organizations representing seniors and care providers, including AARP and the American Health Care Association, advocated for the caucus to form. AARP released poll results to coincide with the announcement of the caucus, showing widespread public support for its aims.

Of registered voters age 40 and older, nearly 80% said they would find assistance with chores or transportation to medical appointments helpful, the survey results showed. Nearly 70% said they would look more favorably upon members of Congress who want to improve family caregiver resources.

Written by Tim Mullaney