One Big Benefit of ACA: Making Room for Caregiving

US Capitol Dome Image courtesy of Congressional Budget Office

One Big Benefit of ACA: Making Room for Caregiving
| Published February 14, 2014 |

By Dr. Pamela Pittman Brown
Thursday Review contributor

For American workers between the ages of 50 and 64, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) creates health and medical care opportunities which were previously unavailable.

Research in 2011 noted that 64% of those between 50 and 64 stated they continued to work simply for their health insurance. This age group has been perhaps the most vulnerable when it comes to cost and availability of health care coverage within the individual marketplace, typically because of the ability of pre-existing conditions to cause a denial of coverage. The PPACA allows older adults to consider retiring early, as they now will be eligible for coverage without pre-existing condition clauses.

This is only one group of older adults who will benefit.

An additional group of older adults who will benefit from the PPACA will be the parents of those who are retiring early. Research by MetLife in 2011 noted that approximately 10 million adult children cared for their aging parent. This translates into over one in four women (28%) and over one in seven men (17%) acting as caregivers for a senior parent. The National Center for Health Statistics reports the number of people 75+ years of age has doubled from 3 to 6% of the population since 1950 with over 22.4 million families providing care for aging relatives.

What do these numbers mean for the average American? If you are a Baby Boomer, it means that you will more than likely be caring for your older, aging parents or other elderly relatives. AARP estimates that Boomer caregivers are spending approximately 18 hours a week caring for aging parents or relatives with 67% also working a full-time job and/or caring for children or grandchildren as well. The average American family now includes more adults than children, with women providing the most care for aging relatives, and caring for them on average 18 years.

MetLife noted that these working women and men were losing an estimated $3 trillion in lifetime wages. Moreover, it is not just the wages that were a concern but more importantly, the loss of health insurance benefits which would be costly to replace whether through Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) or individual health insurance policies. It is difficult enough to balance work and caregiving responsibilities and the PPACA allows these workers to alleviate at least one aspect of concern and stress.

Earlier this month the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the PPACA would reduce full-time employment (or the equivalent of full time employment) by about 2.3 million by 2021. The report stressed that much of this workforce reduction would be the result of voluntary removal from full time employment.

As a gerontologist I am encouraged that this natural reduction will be able to occur since it will enable millions of workers between the ages of 50 and 64 can take care of their aging relatives (and themselves) without exacerbating the stresses of simultaneous full-time work and caregiving responsibilities. A guarantee of healthcare without the requirement of hanging on to an overly physically demanding job (while also participating in physically demanding caregiving) can change how we view caregiving and the sandwich generation.

Dr. Pamela Pitman Brown is Credentialed Professional Gerontologist and Assistant Professor Gerontology at Winston-Salem State University (N.C.) Dr. Brown is a graduate of Auburn University, South Alabama, Miami (OH), and Michigan.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Grinch That Stole health Care; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; Friday, December 20, 2013.