Without getting into the biological, religious, sociological… arguments of ‘why’, the fact is all human societies encourage, expect, even need families to support each other in ways that might appear contrary to self-interest. Parents want to keep their kids in school into their early 20s, for example, even though their counterparts a century often sent their children to work by their early teens – thus bringing much needed income to the family unit.
Eileen Connelly of AARP), some $450 billion in ‘free’ health care is being given by family members of the chronically ill and/or elderly. The numbers have bloomed by some 20% since the Stock Market/Banking self-destruction of 2007. How might the trend develop over the next few years?that the economic burden nowadays lies much more at the latter stages of life than at the early stages. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (
AARP’s report states that over 42 million Americans put in over 18 hours a week in family healthcare, and the numbers rise to over 61 million people if we count simply people providing health assistance in a given year. If such health care were paid $11.16 an hour (considered the national average by AARP), some $450 billion goes unpaid to these familial or neighborly healthcare providers.
Moreover, Ms. Connelly reports
Beyond handling simple household chores or taking care of the bills and insurance paperwork, AARP noted that caregiving is getting more medically involved, due to factors like shorter hospital stays and more home-based medical technologies. Caregivers “often have little training or preparation for performing these tasks, which include bandaging and wound care, tube feedings, managing catheters, giving injections, or operating medical equipment.”
The people needing to give the care must work as well, of course. Yet the stress of taking care of a family member puts downward pressure on their hours and paychecks, but also on their productivity and health. AARP reports that long-term caregivers tend to have higher medical costs themselves – costs borne by their employers and their insurance, who then raise premiums to cover them.
With the upcoming ‘silver tsunami’ of retiring Baby Boomers, these numbers are likely to grow as we simply have more older Americans to take care of. Yet so too is there a political dimension to the rising burden of ‘free’ familial healthcare. Medical care by the federal government, whether it’s the healthcare reforms passed in 2010 or Medicare, is one of the significant pieces of the budget that Republicans want to cut.
The floating plan at the moment was drawn up by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan’s plan — passed by the Republican-controlled House as part of its budget proposals but rejected in the Senate — aims to terminate government-run Medicare for everyone who becomes eligible for the program after 2021, replacing it with a voucher plan known as “premium support.” That system would provide new beneficiaries with a government subsidy to buy their own private insurance on the open market.
The most likely outcome of this ‘reform’ is that those dependent on the ‘free’ support of their families (by definition those with smaller retirement packages from middle-class jobs gutted in the last 20-odd years) will also be required to buy more expensive private insurance. Which will put them under even greater dependence on their family’s assistance. Which will lower the earning abilities of other members of the family. Which means when they need medical help…
No doubt the care family members offer each other is part of what binds society together. Is there the will to bind the national family together through supporting its long-term ill or disabled?
Written by: Marco Kathuria
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