Tuesday is the first day home health workers are guaranteed federal labor protections like the right to minimum wage, time and a half for overtime, and travel pay. The change impacts nearly 2 million aides, the people who work with the elderly and disabled.
To understand the importance of these workers, you can think about the number 5.1 million — that’s how many Americans live with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association projects that number will grow to nearly 7 million in the next decade.
“We know that this workforce is going to become more important over the coming decades,” said Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago health policy professor.
Today, some communities don’t have enough home health workers. He said better pay will likely help.
“I tend to think that no one policy is the polio vaccine,”Pollack said. “But I think that if we have regulations that allow people to earn a living wage, that makes it a lot easier for us to recruit good people.”
That said, guaranteed minimum wage and overtime are expected to drive up costs.
Bill Dombi with the National Association for Home Care & Hospice said, “Employers of these workers do not have the option of simply raising revenues to cover new costs.” Many home health companies contract with Medicaid, which is generally pays the lowest rates.
Dombi said to meet new requirements, state Medicaid programs must pony up more money to fund these essential services or risk disrupting services. He said the most likely adjustment is that companies will start staffing patients with multiple caregivers.
Chicago’s Pollack said it’s unrealistic to “expect that [Medicaid] will provide low reimbursement rates for these key services and somehow expect companies to provide a great work environment.” While workers receive certain new protections, Pollack said the government must monitor industry’s response and how that impacts care for the sick and disabled.
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