Benefit a Burden for Home Health Care Aides

By Jeremy Smerd

Feb. 24, 2010

Employer health benefits used to be an attractive perk for home health care aides in Massachusetts. However, the high cost of complying with the state requirement that all individuals purchase health insurance has inspired some to work less in order to remain eligible for state-funded health care.

“Before health care reform it was attractive [to offer health insurance]. Now it’s not very attractive at all,” says Lisa Gurgone, executive director of the Massachusetts Council for Home Care Aide Services, a trade association.

Many in the industry hope that national health care reform efforts will reduce the cost of health insurance for low-wage workers who make $10 to $15 an hour. While the recession has made it easier for home health care companies to find workers willing to care for elderly patients, some worry that when the economy rebounds they won’t have enough workers to meet demand.

“We have seen a number of employees who cut hours back to no longer qualify for our plan and flip over to the state connector plan,” says Mike Trigilio, president of Associated Home Care in Beverly, Massachusetts. “In some cases it’s lesser cost, but it’s also a lesser plan. But they just want to comply with the requirement.”

Home health care workers face especially high insurance premiums because they tend to be older, female and prone to injury. Federal health care reform legislation could change insurance laws to narrow the cost gap between young, healthier workers and older, sicker ones, as well as provide subsidies. However, it has yet to be seen whether the actual cost of insurance will come down.

Some employer groups have proposed allowing people to buy catastrophic coverage as an affordable way to comply with the requirement that all workers have insurance. Unions and other groups believe a publicly run insurance plan would act as a low-cost alternative for workers.

Either way, affordable health insurance is essential to recruiting the next generation of home health care workers, says Carol Regan, director of government affairs for PHI, a research and advocacy organization for home health care workers. Nationally, there are 3 million home health care aides. As baby boomers age, a million more home health care aides will be needed within the next decade.

“We better figure out a way to make these good jobs, because they are going to be caring for our mothers, brothers, sisters and us,” Regan says.

Workforce Management, March 2010, p. 18Subscribe Now!

Jeremy Smerd writes for Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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