Family caregivers provide essential, life-sustaining and dignity-enhancing care to their loved ones every day of the year. Almost all of this care is provided for free and is unrecognized by business leaders and politicians, even though it has a very real impact on the economy. Now, a study byAARP has put a dollar figure on these care costs, and it is a whopping $350 Billion per year. The new study, Valuing the Invaluable: A New Look at the Economic Value of Family Caregiving, finds that family caregivers are the “backbone of the nation’s long-term care system” and play a vital role in providing care to adults with serious illness, chronic conditions and disabilities.

The AARP news release about the study compares the $350 Billion value of what family caregivers provide to the total spent on Medicare ($342 Billion in 2005), Medicaid ($300 Billion in 2005) and the US budget deficit ($248 Billion in FY 2006). The family care-giving value far exceeds the Medicaid expenditures of all states; sometimes by a factor of 10.
Family caregivers help delay or prevent the use of costly nursing home care and reduce pressure on both Medicaid and Medicare budgets. But, the costs to society in lost work-time, lost benefits, and health impacts on caregivers is significant. The AARP study makes it clear that we should provide support to family caregivers and expand programs that provide respite and help, including tax breaks, information and support systems.

Families and individuals must plan for their care needs as they age. The current rules of the Medicaid program make no allowance for the unpaid cost of care, but real arrangements can be made to properly compensate family care-givers. If someone in your family is providing unpaid care, consult with an Elder Law Attorney to see if a system can be put in place that will benefit your whole family.