Joseph Bensmihen: Work Rule Could End Up Costing Seniors, Caregivers

From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel by Joseph Bensmihen

Millions of seniors in South Florida and elsewhere in America depend on trusted licensed home health care givers who provide daily critical assistance, be it medication reminders, dressing, bathing, toileting or cooking.

But as early as March, barring a reversal of an executive order from President Obama, the quality of life enjoyed now by many seniors could be adversely affected both in their independence and checkbook.Under the president’s Dec. 15 directive to the Department of Labor, home health aides, exempt from federal wage laws since 1974, will have to be paid an hourly wage — and overtime (time and a half) for service over 40 hours a week.Don’t expect insurance policies to extend for this added cost. Home care long-term insurance generally pays a “capitated” or fixed amount per day or per week established by contract. And if the consumer pays out of pocket for all home care now, the one-two punch could be staggering given already diminished savings and low interest rate investments seniors are experiencing due to the weak economy.

Imagine paying a licensed, trained and background checked home health worker, now costing $17 an hour, $25.50 an hour for 30 hours of overtime. Weekly, that added expense would be $247.50. Multiply by 52, and the increase to Mom, Dad, or Grandparent could be almost $13,000 a year.

The options are not pretty:

Individuals may give up their independent lifestyle and shift to institutions that until now were more costly.

Children paying for or monitoring parents expenses might start hiring care givers independently, skipping over companies that provide licensed, trained, credentialed and criminal background checked care givers.

To get around overtime, individuals or their children or grandchildren may choose to create a revolving door of caregivers, an administrative headache that won’t make the client particularly happy either. “Don’t send me anybody else,” is a familiar directive to home health care providers such as myself.

Whether a relationship exists between the caregiver and senior can determine if the senior is comfortable enough to go on an errand or an activity with an aide — or choose to stay home, shrinking their world and opportunities for happiness.

While seniors are predominantly the ones most likely to suffer from a change in the wage laws, physically disabled individuals, perhaps someone injured in sports or an automobile accident, could feel the effects as well. A quadriplegic does not choose whether or not to purchase home care.

Caregivers, on the other hand, do have a choice. If they want to be eligible for overtime they can work in a nursing home, hospital or physical rehabilitation facility. The Fair Labor Standards Act “companion exemption” from 1974 does not apply there.

Yes, individuals who provide this important work for our growing senior population should be fairly compensated. They almost always make in excess of the newly established $7.67 an hour federal minimum wage. In Florida, caregivers generally earn approximately $10 to $11 an hour, and, depending on their credentials, often make more than double the minimum wage.

So the question becomes, where is the line drawn between government establishing a “Living Wage” and creating a hardship on the consumer? The Obama administration proposal, particularly when it comes to the overtime provision, can hardly be called “balanced.”

And in the category of “unintended consequence,” the proposal may hurt the worker. Caregivers could be forced to move multiple times weekly to accommodate families unwilling or unable to pay overtime. The difficulty of synchronizing multiple client schedules could actually reduce caregiver work hours.

The Department of Labor has opened a 60-day public comment period ending Feb. 27 before acting on the President’s initiative. I have written to our 300 homebound clients urging them to call Congress and the President, to voice opposition based on the anticipated negative impact.

Joseph Bensmihen is the owner and CEO of Boca Home Care Services in Boca Raton.

Call to Action

Congress has the authority to intervene and keep the companionship services exemption in place. We must do everything we can to prevent changes to the companionship services exemption that will adversely affect the home care industry!

Click here to send a message to Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and your U.S. representative and ask them to oppose eliminating the companionship services exemption!

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