President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act includes money for home and community-based services (HCBS) for seniors and people with disabilities, but West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema want to take these services out of the bill. And Utah’s Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee have said that they won’t vote for the bill. I wanted to share more about my experience with HCBS and why home and community-based services are so important.
My home health care provides daily necessities to help me live in the home that I’ve lived in for nearly five decades. I’ve had home health care for over a year, and they get me ready each morning, help me take my medications and do exercises, help with household chores and make my breakfast. Sometimes, we walk my dog or go out to breakfast, so I get out of the house.
During the pandemic, this was the only way I got through. I wish I started home health care sooner; it’s made a world of difference for myself and made things easier on my family. My caregivers allow me to stay in my home rather than go to a nursing home and they help slow the progression of my Parkinson’s. But I’m lucky because I have the money to afford these services.
In Utah, there are 3,300 people on waiting lists for home and community-based services through Medicaid. With Build Back Better investments, 2,800 more seniors and people with disabilities could receive home care services and nearly 1,000 family caregivers could return to work. Research shows that families forgo $28.9 billion each year in wages because of caregiving responsibilities that pull them out of the labor market. This could also help solve the labor shortages that we’re facing, in addition to increasing wages. Our nation is facing a skyrocketing need for care as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement. Almost 820,000 Americans are on Medicaid HCBS waitlists – waiting an average of over three years.
But the people who provide home health – the majority are women of color – don’t make the kind of money they deserve. The median wage for direct care workers in Utah, who take care of our aging loved ones and people with disabilities, is only $12 an hour. Although I don’t know that I can put a price on the care I receive, I know they deserve to earn at least a living wage. The Build Back Better Act would also invest money to ensure that caregivers make enough money to live and ensures that we can build the caregiving workforce to the numbers needed as more people need their services.
A robust federal investment in care would make it possible for millions to afford the home care services they need — and home care is more cost-effective than institutional settings, at $26,000 per person per year to provide home care services as opposed to $90,000 per person per year in nursing homes. We all want to be able to age at home and for people with disabilities to live with independence and dignity. With this bill, we have the opportunity to bring us closer to that reality. I encourage our senators to support seniors and people with disabilities by supporting Build Back Better – and ensure that home and community-based services stays in the bill.
Fred Adams is a longtime resident of West Jordan who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease nearly 15 years ago. He is retired from a career as an electrician and is a proud 60-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He loves spending time with his dog, Max, and his family.