This article first appeared in the Des Moines Register. Read the original there.
As our country seems more divided every day, there’s one issue that brings us together, and that is caring for our families.
From the daughter balancing care for her father with Alzheimer’s while raising her own daughter, to the father with ALS who worries about paying for the care he needs in the face of his family’s future well-being, care is taking center stage in more of our lives.
These aren’t hypothetical situations — these are our personal stories. And the question is no longer if caregiving will affect any of us — it’s when, and whether we are prepared for it.
Iowa, like the whole nation, is getting older, and our care needs are growing. We have a generation-defining opportunity before us to create the sustainable, dignified care that our families and our country need.
Unfortunately, elected officials aren’t taking on this responsibility, and families are paying a disastrous price. Iowa’s privatized Medicaid — the largest payer of long-term services and supports (LTSS) — has resulted in devastating cuts for older adults and people with disabilities who need home care, as well as the dedicated workers who provide the assistance necessary to keep them from prematurely entering nursing homes. These cuts force impossible choices for families.
Take Cyndi Muow, whose husband, Todd, of Orange City, needed 24-hour care. After Medicaid privatization, her insurance company refused to pay for the workers who had provided care for him for 20 years. As Cyndi scrambled to find help, Todd often had to be left unsupervised, and ended up in the hospital. Within three months, he died. Heartbreakingly, Cyndi said, “I’m sure he’s not the only one.”
If Iowa doesn’t act, there could be countless more stories like Todd’s. Yet the assault on our care continues in Congress. House Republicans are proposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security to foot the bill for their billionaire tax cut.
We should be easing the burden on family caregivers and doing whatever we can to support the freedom and choice for older adults to live independently at home. That’s why we need a universal, single-payer health care plan for Iowa that includes long-term care, for anyone who needs it, from day one.
This plan also should make sure care jobs are good jobs. Iowa has a direct care workforce shortage, even as the state will need 20,000 more workers in the next decade. These workers currently make poverty wages, rarely have benefits, and face an annual 64 percent turnover rate. Here, as elsewhere, we’ve devalued home care work because of its association with women. It’s long past time to value this work. We should invest in these jobs of the future, creating opportunities for generations to come. It doesn’t just make moral sense, but economic sense, too.
Caregiving families in Iowa are not alone, and families across the country, like our own, are coming together to demand better. Being sick or having less mobility can lead you to feel like the world around you is shrinking. But having a caregiver can make the world open up again.
For us, having a caregiver, and being a caregiver, has helped us and those around us to live more dignified, fulfilling lives while passionately continuing our work.
It’s time to invest in these relationships by not just protecting the care we have, but creating and demanding the care all our families need. Together we can build a strong care infrastructure for generations young and old alike.
Ady Barkan is the founder of the Be A Hero Campaign, a project of the Center for Popular Democracy.
Sarita Gupta is the co-director of Caring Across Generations.
Ady Barkan will join Iowa CCI members and others Tuesday, July 10, at 6 p.m. at 2001 Forest Ave. in Des Moines for a film screening and discussion on care and caregiving. For more information, call 515-282-0484.