An important op/ed by Fallon Health President and CEO Richard Burke

Posted 16 December 2021 by Fallon Health

At Fallon Health, we know how important family caregivers are. You play a vital role in the care of a loved one—and we understand how having this responsibility can affect your life. That’s why we created this blog and the Fallon Health Caregiver Toolkit: for you to have a set of practical resources that can help you along the way.

It’s also why our president and CEO, Richard Burke, wrote an op/ed for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that focuses on family caregivers and why it’s more important than ever that you get the support you need. In this timely piece, which ran on Dec. 6, 2021, he points out that the need for family caregivers is going to increase, and offers solutions for what can be done to support those who have this incredible responsibility.

Here is that op/ed in its entirety. Everyone at Fallon Health thanks you for all you do, and we wish you a Happy New Year.

Richard P. Burke: Supporting family caregivers in the age of COVID-19

Published on Dec. 6, 2021, in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Caring for an aging family member has always been a challenging albeit loving job, but the COVID-19 pandemic has raised the stakes on keeping older adults healthy while making caregiving an even more complicated task. Having celebrated caregivers during National Family Caregivers Month in November, let’s also work to make sure they are getting the support and assistance they need.

The need for family caregivers is only going to grow. Today, an estimated 53 million Americans provide care to a loved one. In Massachusetts, the number is 850,000. These numbers will increase into the foreseeable future as our population continues to age. Between 2015 and 2030, the state’s older adult population is projected to increase to 21 percent of the population.

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing the demand for family caregiving as the ranks of formal caregivers are being decimated by the necessity of limiting contact between aides and their clients, for both their sakes. As the think tank Rand noted in a study of caregivers and the pandemic, “homes have become the default setting for both medical care and long-term care, and family members have become frontline workers.”

This outsized role can create an overwhelming strain on family caregivers, many of whom are also juggling parenting and a job. Caregivers experience a host of physical and psychological problems from fatigue, sleep problems and a weakened immune system to anxiety, stress and a feeling of isolation and abandonment. 

Caregiving responsibilities also exact a financial and economic toll. Some 60 percent of family caregivers work outside the home. The majority are female caregivers, who lose $324,000 a year in wages and Social Security benefits from having to leave the workforce early.

Clearly, family caregivers need our support. Here is what we can do for those who have taken on the awesome responsibility of caring for a loved one:

  • Pass the federal Credit for Caring Act, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which would provide a measure of financial relief to those who take on added financial responsibilities as family caregivers supporting a loved one. The legislation would provide family caregivers with a credit of up to $5,000 a year for certain out-of-pocket expenses related to their caregiving.
  • Pass state legislation, called the Family Caregiving Tax Credit, to provide a similar credit of up to $1,500 a year to qualifying Massachusetts taxpayers.
  • Raise awareness of the existing Dependent Care FSA, a federal tax deduction for certain out-of-pocket expenses related to the care of dependents.  The law saves caregivers an average 30 percent of the cost of dependent care services.
  • Promote health care models that engage proactively and systematically with family caregivers – a process that can help them manage stress, plan for care, balance work with caregiving, and make better decisions for themselves and those to whom they are providing care. 

Two such models are the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which Fallon Health operates in Massachusetts as Summit ElderCare, and Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan and Senior Care Options (SNP/SCO), which Fallon offers as NaviCare. 

These coordinated, patient-centered programs offer solutions to two of the most common family caregiver requests – keeping the care recipient safe at home and offering respite from the daily responsibilities of providing care.  But while the approach represented by the two programs gets high marks, only one in three eligible Massachusetts is taking advantage of them. We can do better.

Family caregivers provide an unheralded service that is central to the structure of our families and society. Let’s honor them by acknowledging the magnitude of their role and advancing real solutions to lighten the load that they carry for us all.

Richard P. Burke is the president and CEO of Fallon Health.

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