How has your experience as a caregiver influenced your work on health care policy?
Family caregivers are the essential glue that holds our health care system together. Like so many others who have cared for loved ones, I know how rewarding this work is but I also know how challenging it can be. More and more, family caregivers are being asked to undertake increasingly complex medical and nursing tasks that are crucial to the wellbeing of our loved ones. As the former executive director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, I know that many family caregivers are eager to learn the skills they need and be fully included in decisions that affect their loved ones.
That is why I have led efforts not just to expand the number of professional providers trained in geriatrics but to ensure that those professionals work closely with family caregivers in developing and implementing personal care plans. Working with the Eldercare Workforce Alliance and other experts, I introduced H.R. 3713, the bipartisan Geriatrics Workforce and Caregiver Enhancement Act. This bill reauthorizes grant programs instrumental to training providers and promotes strategies to incorporate family caregivers into care plan considerations. It is a meaningful step in integrating the fragmented care system and providing family care givers the support they need.
Personal Care Aides in Illinois 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?
Personal care aides are critical to meeting the needs of seniors and people with disabilities. To attract and retain the direct care workers we need, we must ensure that they are paid adequately, treated respectfully, and allowed to join unions so that they can bargain collectively for benefits and safe workplaces. As a senior organizer, in the Illinois State Legislature and now in Congress, I have always fought for comprehensive long-term care policies and policies to maintain an adequately-paid skilled workforce. Until the Obama Administration, direct care workers had been exempt from federal minimum wage and overtime rules under the “companionship exemption” – a policy change I fought hard to win. Now we need to make sure that we raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour – allowing direct care workers to earn enough to provide for their families and remain in their profession. To help pay for those costs, we need to provide greater assistance to family caregivers through enhanced tax credits and improve Medicaid funding. The real solution, however, is to enact a universal long-term care policy that adequately invests in caregivers and services.
Where do you see innovation in health care for older adults and how do you plan to prioritize these programs in the future?
I am very encouraged by the progress that has been made in health care solutions for older adults, but we all know challenges remain. Creating a robust and well-trained workforce to meet the needs of our aging population is a top priority. We are facing a large geriatric workforce shortage – about 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, and the number of seniors is expected to top 70 million by 2030. In the same year, 3.5 million additional health care professionals will be needed to meet these needs. That is why I am so proud to have introduced the bipartisan Geriatrics Workforce and Caregiver Enhancement Act.
We also need to be creative in providing a continuum of care settings, recognizing that most individuals want to remain at home and in their communities. That means that we need to look at ways to provide the full range of services that they need – providing personalized care plans that rely on geriatric practitioners, family caregivers and a professional paid direct care workforce.
Jan Schakowsky has been a lifelong consumer advocate and a champion for, what she sees as, the disappearing middle class. From her days as a young housewife who led the campaign to put expiration dates on food products to the 2008 passage of legislation she helped write making children’s products and toys safe, Jan has worked to make life better for working and middle class Americans.
Jan was elected to represent Illinois’ 9th Congressional District in 1998, after serving for eight years in the Illinois General Assembly. She is in her tenth term, serving in the House Democratic Leadership as Chief Deputy Whip and member of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. She is a member of the House Budget Committee, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she serves as Ranking Member of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, and as a member of the Health and Oversight & Investigations Subcommittees.
For decades, Jan identified her top priority as winning affordable, quality health care for all Americans. In 2009 and 2010, she played a leadership role in writing and passing the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that finally established health care as a right and not a privilege in the United States.