Stethoscope lying on money
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Renita Jablonski: Home health care workers are a lifeline for a lot of elderly and disabled people. But high gas prices have many care providers thinking about a career change. From Minnesota Public Radio, Michael Caputo has more.

Michael Caputo: Stephanie Trancoso of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota says she was destined to work as a home health care aide helping the disabled live independently.

Stephanie Trancoso" Everybody in my family is either cops or nurses, and I don't like running, so I'll pick nurse.

The 24-year-old drives a 12-year-old Ford Taurus. Duct tape holds a side view mirror in place and the "check engine" light glows. She doesn't earn much -- a couple of bucks above minimum wage. And she averages about 74 miles a day, visiting clients.

Trancoso: You know, I'm putting 20 bucks in my gas tank, every day. You can see I'm going to need to stop and get gas. And I just filled up yesterday.

Trancoso only gets reimbursed for mileage between clients, not for what she drives between her home and her patients. Low reimbursements and climbing gas prices have some home health care providers considering a new job.

Take Nancy Zhao. She passes three hospitals within a mile of her Minneapolis home as she drives 30 miles or more to see patients.

Nancy Zhao: Every night, I think about quitting, and going to work at one of those hospitals.

The National Association for Home Care and Hospice says agencies across the country are losing staff to gas prices. That's forcing them to cut back service -- especially in rural areas -- at a time of growing demand. A just-released study by the association estimates home care workers will be asked to drive more than five billion miles this year.

Val Halamandaris: That's 1.3 million trips across the United States at its widest point and more than double the two million miles that are driven globally by UPS.

That's association president Val Halamandaris. Advocates like him are hoping Congress passes a proposal to hike by 5 percent Medicare reimbursements for rural home care agencies to offset gas costs. But, he says, even if that passes:

Halamandaris: It's just a patch on the tire, a temporary fix.

Halamandaris says Congress ought to extend the increase to all home care agencies and get workers rebates for federal gas taxes.

In Saint Paul, Minnesota, I'm Michael Caputo for Marketplace.

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