Mar 1, 2011

Florida bill would undermine family caregiver arrangements

Jean is 80 years old, a Florida resident and legally blind. Her daughter Laura has left her job in order to assist her mother. Laura does the cooking, shopping and housekeeping, transports her mother to  medical appointments, and serves as Jean's all-around companion. Although she does all this out of love, Laura is paid by her mother for her help. As dedicated a daughter as she is, Laura could not afford to care for her mother without such compensation. Without Laura's help, Jean would have no choice but to hire a stranger to do these tasks, or she would have to move to a facility. 
Bill, a widower, is diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and had to move to a Florida nursing home last year. Gary, his son, works the early morning shift and stops by each afternoon to help his father eat his lunchtime meal, read to him, and take him to afternoon activities for which the overworked staff don't always provide transportation. Like Laura, Gary helps his father out of love. He would help with or without payment. But with a child in college and bills to pay, Gary is grateful for the small sum Bill insists on giving his caregiver son.

In Florida, such "personal service contracts" -- i.e., prepaying a loved one for caregiving services -are considered exempt for Medicaid eligibility purposes. Unfortunately, this may change if the Florida Legislature passes Senate Bill 1356. Under the proposed legislation, personal service contracts would be considered "gifts" that would count against a parent's ultimate eligibility for long-term Medicaid services, should they ever be needed. In plain language, the passage of SB1356 will mean that:
  • Adult children who want to care for their parents may be unable to do so because of the financial hardship that would result.
  • Aging parents may be forced to rely on strangers, rather than their own loved ones who would otherwise be willing to help their parents.
  • And in some cases, the parent will find himself or herself having to move to facility rather than stay at home.
SB1356 doesn't exactly represent the "family values" so many of our politicians claim to support! It would negatively impact on countless families and the elderly. (By the way, the Veteran's Administration allows personal service contracts. The V.A. will pay a veteran or veteran's widow in order to compensate a relative who is providing non-medical caregiving services.)

Please help us defeat Bill 1356. Email/fax/call your Florida elected representatives (a link is provided below) and let them know you are against  SB 1356. You may wish to cut and paste the following wording into your email:

I do not support restrictions on payment to members of my family who provide necessary services to me as I grow older. I may need extra help with essential, yet simple things, like making a meal, tidying up, or sitting with me when I am lonely. Among my friends, I know of  many daughters and sons who have quit their jobs or have chosen to work less hours so they can help their aging parents. Those daughters and sons love their parents but they need to be paid just like any other professional. I want my children, rather than a stranger, to help me. My children should not have to make a choice between being there for me and facing severe financial hardship. PLEASE vote AGAINST any legislation, including SB 1356, if restrictions on payment to family members are proposed.

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