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White House, Life Insurers Fight to Keep Caregiver Aid in Spending Bill

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What You Need to Know

  • Long-term care facilities are hoping Congress will also help them.
  • About 8 million Americans care for children and older or disabled relatives at the same time, Vice President Kamala Harris says.
  • Several measures are aimed at people who care for frail or disabled adults.

The Biden administration is throwing its weight behind caregiver support and paid leave proposals that many life insurers like — and that could help a budget deal could win over Republican and Democratic swing voters in the Senate.

The Biden administration has included a child care subsidy for parents of children under age 5 in its Build Back Better infrastructure proposal.

Those proposals are now on the list of elements that might, or might not, end up in the final version of the “must pass” budget package that Democrats try to maneuver through Congress.

Kamala Harris and Elder Care

The administration has also called for providing universal preschool for all 3-year-old and 4-year-old children, and several measures aimed at people who are caring for frail or disabled adults, including:

  • Adding dental, vision and hearing benefits to the traditional Medicare benefits package.
  • Providing a tax credit based on child care and adult care expenses. The tax credit in the original proposal would provide an $8,000 tax credit for a family with an annual income of $125,000 that was providing care for two people.
  • Creating a national paid family and medical leave program that could provide up to $4,000 per month in leave pay for up to 12 weeks.
  • Provide home modification benefits for people who may need wheelchair ramps or other features designed to increase accessibility.

The White House sent Vice President Kamala Harris out Tuesday to visit the home of Jamie Davis Smith, a woman who is caring for a child born with severe disabilities, a mother who has had a stroke, and a father who has stage 4 cancer.

Harris said in remarks after the meeting that she believes that about 8 million Americans are caring for children and older or disabled relatives at the same time.

Harris said the Build Back Better package would give caregivers the kind of support that most Americans would want the country to provide, if people met those caregivers face to face.

“Build Back Better is focused on human infrastructure as well as roads and bridges,” Harris said.

Paying for elder care infrastructure “is actually less expensive than requiring our seniors to go into some assisted living facility,” she added.

The ACLI Survey

Many life insurers sell life insurance products and other products aimed at caregivers and at people who are planning for their own long-term care.

Some life insurers supplement revenue from offering insurance by providing “absence management” programs, or programs that help employers administer paid leave programs and as well as sick pay and disability insurance programs.

Some of the same insurers and others sell private insurance policies that employers can use to meet state and local paid leave requirements, or to support their own, voluntary paid leave programs, including disability insurance programs.

The American Council of Life Insurers indicated its own members’ support for the idea of expanding paid family and medical leave programs by presenting results from a new survey.

Susan Neely, the ACLI’s CEO, said in a comment included in the survey report announcement that the survey report shows a clear path to creating a national paid leave program.

“Life insurers, who help provide paid leave through disability income policies to half the civilian population, support paid family and medical leave for workers,” Neely said.

The ACLI hired to outside firms, RG Strategies and Public Opinion Strategies, to conduct the survey.

The survey team found that 60% of the independents polled, 63% of Republicans and 84% of the Democrats agreed that “all employers should be required to offer paid extended leave benefits to all of their employees who have worked for the employer for at least 12 months.”

About 75% of all voters polled, including 66% of Republicans, support the idea of “creating a paid leave program via a partnership between government and private plans for employees who work for small businesses,” according to the survey report.

About 86% of the voters polled, including 84% of Republicans, supported the idea of offering tax incentives to employers that provide paid leave.

What It Means

Some of the most prominent centrist Democrats and Republicans have a stake in the adoption of caregiver support proposals.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., comes from a state with a high disability rate.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, represents a state with a relatively high average age, and she has been active in efforts to promote proposals that might strengthen the private long-term care insurance market and improve other types of elder support programs.

The national Republican Party platform includes a caregiver support provision:

Our aging population must have access to safe and affordable care. … Because most seniors desire to age at home, we will make homecare a priority in public policy and will implement programs to protect against elder abuse.

The current focus on caregiver support ideas could be a sign that some will make it into the final budget package efforts, in part because they will be used to court Senate swing voters.

The White House (Photo: Shutterstock)