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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 8, 2004

Caregivers need a helping hand

By Marilyn Lee

I still swallow hard when I remember the veto of SB 1088 in 2003, the long-term-care bill that so many in the community and in the Legislature had worked on for so many years.

I was touched by a letter from George Honjiyo, president of the Coalition for Long Term Care, thanking the legislators who voted in favor. He wrote, "We realize that voting for SB 1088 took courage, but we believe it was the right thing to do. Imposing a tax to make people take responsibility for their own long-term-care future is not popular. Sometimes wisdom takes precedence over popularity."

The governor's veto has come and gone, but our long-term-care crisis persists. In many ways, SB 1088 was a bill supporting the family caregiver. Often forgotten, but the backbone of the long-term care provided in Hawai'i, is that family caregivers make possible the vital component enabling elderly and disabled to remain in their homes and communities.

It is estimated that in Hawai'i there are 114,874 family caregivers providing approximately 107 million hours of caregiving per year at an estimated value of $875 million.

Family caregivers don't have much time to come to the Legislature to testify; they often provide 24-hour care for loved ones with little or no respite. Some caregivers have faithfully discharged their duties for years, giving up jobs, social life and personal interests. However, this year, several groups of determined family caregivers came personally to lobby legislators and to have their presence noted in the gallery of the House.

What can we do to help the family caregiver survive? In the 2004 regular session of the Legislature, several bills in support of caregivers were introduced. None passed, but two resolutions survived.

Of special note is HCR 154, which requests the Executive Office on Aging to provide data on Hawai'i's family caregivers and the older adults to whom they give assistance. Because the financial impact of caregiving takes a toll on family members when it affects their ability to work, proposals such as caregiver reimbursement are supported by several long-term-care advocates.

Informal caregivers are estimated to each lose an average of $25,494 in Social Security benefits, an average of $67,202 in pension benefits, and an average of $566,433 in wage wealth, for a combined total loss of $659,129 over a lifetime.

Data collection would enable the Legislature to focus on exactly how much it would cost to reimburse these caregivers for the work they do.

Also needed for caregivers is information. A recent survey found caregivers to define their most pressing needs as the following:

  • Information, education and training about caregiving.
  • Health maintenance for the caregiver.
  • Personal and family counseling, advice, mediation and support groups.
  • Adult day care/respite services.
  • Tax assistance such as state tax deduction or credits.

Without the work of the family caregiver, our state's long-term-care crisis would be much more severe. The community would be wise to support legislation that would allow family caregivers to survive.

House Majority Floor Leader Marilyn B. Lee represents the 38th District (Mililani, Mililani Mauka).