Bipartisan RAISE Act is a Step in the Right Direction for our Aging Population

In a time when bipartisan cooperation in Washington D.C. seems out of reach, this week a bill passed that everyone can get behind. The President signed the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act into law on Monday, a move that proves the government is paying attention to the ever-growing needs of our aging population and those who care for them.

The legislation addresses the needs of family caregivers and requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop, maintain and implement a strategy that supports family caregivers over the next three years. HHS will get input from an advisory council made up of representatives from the private and public sectors. The topics addressed will include:

  • Respite care options
  • The need for person-centered and family-centered care in long-term care settings
  • Financial security
  • Workplace flexibility
  • Information, education and resources for navigating the healthcare system
  • Assessment and service planning (including care transitions and coordination) involving recipients and family caregivers

Within three years, our government’s goal is to have a set of best practices that supports healthcare providers, employers, and most importantly, family caregivers. With any luck, this should alleviate some of the stress family caregivers carry on a daily basis. It is my sincere hope that this new law will begin the tough work of shaping our nation’s plan for dementia care/elder care options for families in America.

Here are the cold hard facts:

According to the United Nations, almost 15 percent of the American population has reached the official retirement age. That means that for every four Americans of working age, there is one of retirement age. The population of people age 65 and older will nearly double between now and 2050—from 47.8 million to 88 million. And we know that for most of us as our years accumulate, so can our dependence on support from others to get by.

Although as a gerontologist, I loathe describing anything related to aging in negative terms, and I generally avoid terms like “silver tsunami” or “looming crisis” – it is still very hard not to be alarmed when you recognize that these numbers just won’t cover it. The changing demographics caused by the aging of the baby boomers, will create a need for an additional 1.1 million paid caregivers in the workforce according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Robert Espinoza from the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute reminds us, we need many more bold ideas to pull additional workers into that professional caregiving labor force. And NOW is when we need to be thinking about that.

According to the AARP, in 2013, it is estimated that about 40 million family caregivers provided unpaid care to adults who needed help with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation and transportation that totaled about $470 billion. That is more than the total Medicaid spending in 2013.

As American families are challenged with providing more care (whether paid or unpaid) as they will increasingly be doing in the coming years, they deserve a comprehensive system of support and care options—including day care, respite programs, assessment and service planning options. I am pleased to see that our nation’s leaders have started the conversation and the planning for the structure around these supports. Although it is important to point out that the RAISE Act did not authorize any additional funding for HHS, it is a good start.

Hats off to Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Representatives Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla), for their sponsorship and work on the bill, and to the Alzheimer’s Association and others who lobbied to get it passed. This is a cause worth working together for. 

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