Physicians take care of their patients, but someone else enables a lot of those patients to arrive on time for appointments and makes sure they take the necessary medications between office visits. Increasingly, that someone is a family caregiver who might also prepare meals, administer drugs and coordinate care.
Now federal legislators who recognize the value of family caregivers are pushing to allocate public resources to support this growing segment of the population.
In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers(www.aarp.org) provided unpaid care valued at about $470 billion to adults who needed help with daily activities; that's more than was spent on Medicaid for the year. The number of caregivers is expected to double by 2050.
A House bill(www.congress.gov) introduced this summer -- the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act -- calls for creation of an advisory body that would help HHS develop a strategy that supports family caregivers. The advisory commission would include representatives from federal agencies and the private sector.
The AAFP and several other organizations sent a letter(2 page PDF) to Reps. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., and Kathy Castor, D-Fla., on July 29 expressing support for the legislation.
"Family caregivers are the backbone of services and supports in this country," the letter reads. "They help make it possible for older adults and people with disabilities to live independently in their homes and communities."
The new Assisting Caregivers Today congressional caucus, which the AAFP helped establish, is also supporting the bill.
Much of the care provided by family members is uncompensated. They have little to no institutional support and their role is largely unrecognized by public and private institutions.
One caregiver, Britnee Fergins, attended a recent White House event to share her experiences caring for her father while also working a job and raising a son on her own. Fergins said paid time off from work to assist her father would provide a significant boost, and she described fruitless attempts to get help from hotlines that offer services for caregivers.
"By supporting family caregivers, we can help people live at home where they want to be, helping to delay or prevent more costly care and unnecessary hospitalizations, saving taxpayer dollars," the letter reads.
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