By Ron Pollack
There’s a saying that good help is hard to find. If you or someone you love has ever needed care at home, you know how true that is. One reason it’s so hard to find the right help is that there’s a national shortage of long-term care workers, from home health aides to long-term care nurses. This can make it harder to find the help you may need to stay at home and out of a nursing home.
But there are some changes on the horizon that will help.
New initiatives will soon address the shortage of long-term care workers. The Affordable Care Act, the new health care law, includes programs to boost the supply of long-term care workers: Training programs that offer grants will encourage people to go into long-term care; special funding will spur development of model training programs to make sure long-term care workers are better prepared to meet consumers’ needs; and a new panel of experts will advise Congress on a national strategy to build up the long-term care workforce.
This is a level of long-term care health care workforce planning that we have never tried before. These programs will lead to more, and better caregivers — meaning more options for you to stay at home. It’s fiscally responsible, too, because home care costs less per person than nursing home care. Enabling people to stay at home when they need long-term care should relieve cost pressures on Medicaid, the state and federally funded health care program that is the main insurer of long-term care costs.
To help you pay for care, there will be a new long-term care insurance program for working adults, Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS). The CLASS program will provide qualifying enrollees who need long-term care with a cash benefit averaging at least $50 a day. Enrollees can use that benefit to pay for family members or friends to help them with care at home. That will mean more flexibility and more options to find, and pay for, the help you need.
To help you stay healthier longer, and to ensure that you get appropriate care when you get sick, the new law includes funding for geriatric training programs and grants for physicians who enter and stay in geriatric practice. This will increase the supply of physicians specializing in the care of seniors.
In addition to incentives for people to enter the long-term care workforce, the new law does a lot to improve nursing home quality and safety. It requires nursing homes to do more to train staff in patient care and to prevent elder abuse, which occurs all too often. Additionally, it establishes a nationwide background check program for prospective nursing-home employees who would be working directly with patients. This will keep individuals with criminal records from working with vulnerable populations, improving nursing home safety.
A health care system is only as good as the people working in it. These changes are designed to improve care for seniors — from expanding the supply of physicians specializing in senior care, to increasing the supply of long-term care workers, to improving nursing home safety. The result? Better care for you. And good help will be easier to find.
For more about the workforce changes in the new health care law, visit the long-term services section of the Families USA website and click on “Other Issues.” To learn more about the CLASS Program, visit the Administration on Aging at www.AOA.gov.
Ron Pollack is the executive director of Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers. It is nonprofit and nonpartisan, and its mission is to secure high-quality, affordable health coverage and care for all Americans. Online: www.familiesusa.org.