In this month’s Spotlight, Rep. Donovan (R-NY) discusses his role as caregiver for his mother, medical innovation, and the future of health care for older adults.
How has your experience as a caregiver influenced your work on health care policy?
“I was blessed to have my mother with me for 59 years of my life. Many people are much less fortunate. In the last decade of her life, though, she required extra care, and in the last few years she needed round-the-clock attention. I did my best to keep up for as long as I could, but when I was no longer able to provide her with the level of professional care she needed, I hired two incredible women as home health aides. Let me tell you this – those women cared for my mother like they were family. I will never forget what they did for her, and I’ll be eternally grateful. But they cost money, of course, and I drained my savings paying for my mother’s care. I don’t regret it for a minute and I’d spend it again tomorrow so she could be comfortable, but it’s just a fact. So when advocates meet with me to talk about those struggling to care for their elderly family members, I don’t just get it on an intellectual level – I lived it myself. It’s personal for me.”
Personal Care Aides in New York earned an average $10.85 per hour in 2015. With growing need and a shrinking supply of workers, family caregiving will become more strenuous and expensive. How should we address this problem?
“This is a problem that’s only going to get worse as the Baby Boomers get older. The challenges are two-fold: on the one hand, many families go into debt or exhaust all of their resources caring for a loved one. On the other hand, personal care aides barely earn enough to get by. It’s a catch 22 that requires a lot of thought. The first step is passing the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, which calls for a strategy to tackle this issue.”
What does the future of health care look like for older adults?
“The future of health care for our older generation will really depend on the policies we put in place now. Whether it’s legislation that incentivizes pharmaceutical innovation, proposals dealing with Medicare, or focusing our resources towards preventive care, the decisions we make now will transform our entire health system for decades to come.”
Where do you see innovation in health care for older adults and how do you plan to prioritize these programs in the future?
“Year after year, we see how numerous improvements in technology bring new cures to light and improve the health outcomes of people across the nation. We will continue to see advances in the quality of life of older adults as the understanding of health and disease continues to improve. Personalized care, smart devices, electronic health records, healthcare costs, preventive care and medical treatments and medicines, are all areas that are ripe with opportunity for innovation. Congress’ job is to ensure that policies that incentivize research and modernization within our health care system are put in place. I will continue to support legislation that addresses challenges and opportunities within our health system. An example of legislation I supported to improve health outcomes for years to come is the 21st Century Cures Act, which promotes medical innovation and aims to fast track the creation of cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.”
The Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) is currently the only federal program that develops a health care workforce that maximizes patient and family engagement while improving health outcomes for older adults. With Direct-care workers providing an estimated 70-80% of the paid hands-on care for older adults or those living with disabilities or other chronic conditions in New York, how do you envision supporting these workers and those they care for in your home state?
“One option that has been floated is the ability for folks to deduct from their taxes the expenses associated with caring for a loved one. The problem is on both the family side and the health aide side. Families can’t afford to pay for constant care, and aides don’t earn enough to support themselves. We have to make sure insurance is part of the conversation as well.”
Congressman Daniel “Dan” M. Donovan, Jr. represents Staten Island and parts of South Brooklyn in the 11th Congressional District of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dan was elected on May 5, 2015 during a special election and sworn in on May 12, 2015.
Dan serves as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications. In that role, he exercises oversight of the federal government’s anti-terror and disaster response policies, issues critical to Staten Island and South Brooklyn. Dan also serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.