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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Cutting Medicare Benefits Will Further Strain Overworked Caregivers

More reasons to stop GOP plans to cut Medicare

MARTA HILL GRAY for Common Dreams

There’s an ongoing debate in Washington about the need to trim government spending. As our representatives in Congress wrangle over words like “cuts” and “reforms,” the salient issue remains that long-standing entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are on the chopping block. 

It’s time that we acknowledge just how essential these programs are to supporting home and medical care for older Americans and the caregivers who provide that care.

Care benefits are mistakenly deemed unnecessary but any cuts to this lifeline would be devastating to both older adults and their caregivers. Cuts to Medicare, in particular, would do grave harm to caregivers – direct care providers and unpaid family members alike – who spend countless hours making sure those in their charge live dignified and rewarding lives despite their challenges.

These cuts will only make a hard job infinitely harder by limiting resources and expanding the health burden caregivers bear in their work. We know this because we work with caregivers on a daily basis at Culpepper Garden to serve low-income older adults in our independent- and assisted-living residences. 

That’s why we urge our Congress to immediately take Medicare off the chopping block during these debt ceiling deliberations. Instead, they must preserve, and even strengthen, it.

There are about 65 million Americans on Medicare, and, according to the AARP, one in five Americans in 2020 had been a caregiver — that’s about 53 million adults. Of those, most are female Baby Boomers and the vast majority are women of color taking care of a family member. Given how many people are affected, questions about Medicare’s future are far from insignificant.

Among the proposals to cut Medicare benefits include reducing reimbursements that providers receive for treating Medicare patients. In fact, this has already occurred and some doctors argue that decreasing their payments from the federal health insurance program will mean fewer of them will agree to take on new Medicare patients because they just can’t earn enough money doing so. 

This, in turn, will make it harder for patients to access the care they need and that, of course, means they will get sicker and rely on their caregivers for care that should be provided by a doctor.

Access to high quality care is critical – not just to treat disease, but also to prevent it. According to the CDC, chronic diseases are not only responsible for $4.1 trillion in healthcare costs every year, they are also the nation’s leading cause of illness, disability, and death. 

Properly funding Medicare, and supporting caregivers and assisted-living programs, will improve health outcomes for older adults and will ultimately help the economy by reducing healthcare costs.

Another change is limiting home health benefits for Medicare patients that cover at-home services like direct care, therapists, and so on. Many of our residents rely on these benefits and cutting them would mean more of them would either need frequent hospitalizations (that many already can’t afford) or end up at a nursing home. 

Outcomes that ultimately send patients back to institutional care simply cost more than when a patient stays at home, where most Americans prefer to receive care in the first place.

Protecting these benefits is why Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Alab.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) introduced H.R. 8581, the bipartisan Preserving Access to Home Health Act of 2022. We urge our lawmakers to bring this bill to a vote immediately and pass this bill to protect critical Medicare services that low-income older adults rely on. Doing so would better millions of lives and save the economy trillions of dollars.

MARTA HILL GRAY is the Executive Director of Culpepper Garden, a residential community for low-income older adults in Arlington, VA offering independent and assisted-living options.