Home Health Aides’ Low Wages: Turning Public Awareness into Action

Home health aides keep hundreds of thousands of disabled adults and seniors at home and out of costlier settings. Low Medicaid reimbursement rates keep them from making a better wage, and it's up to state governments to address this issue.
Home health aides keep hundreds of thousands of disabled adults and seniors at home and out of costlier settings.

As home care clients, employees, caregivers, and family members, we know one thing for a fact: Home health aides do incredible, compassionate work that enable hundreds of thousands of residents across the country to stay at home and out of costlier, more infectious settings like nursing homes and hospitals. And we certainly know another fact: The work that aides do is invaluable, and it’s time that they begin to receive a fair wage for the hard work they do.

Low aide wages have recently made national headlines and the message is clear: We will need more and more home health aides as America’s population continues to age. But home health care providers are having trouble recruiting and retaining the quality, reliable workforce needed to keep up with the growing demand.

Recently, Hearts for Home Care advocate and BAYADA Home Health Care’s chief government affairs officer, Dave Totaro, submitted his opinion on the matter to STAT News, a media company focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery. He posed the question:

“To say that home health aides’ work is demanding is an understatement. They make it possible for 14 million Americans to stay in their homes and out of expensive and impersonal institutional settings like hospitals and nursing homes. Performing this necessary and in-demand work takes a physical and emotional toll, yet these individuals do it with compassion day in and day out.

So why do we treat home health aides as low-wage, low-value workers?”

The problem lies primarily in states’ low Medicaid funding for home care programs. Though states typically pay an hourly rate for providers who deliver home health aide services, these rates have largely been low for many years, or raised periodically, but at a rate too low to keep up with real costs of living and providing services. Because these rates must cover wages, training, benefits, new hire costs such as background checks and TB shots, and supplies, it is nearly impossible for home health care companies to take such a low rate and provide aides with a wage high enough to compete with industries like fast food and retail.

News coverage of the issue has been effective in bringing greater public awareness to the issue, especially as nearly all individuals will be touched by home care at least once in their lives, whether it be for themselves, a parent, friend, or other loved one. Now is the time to take awareness and turn it into action. Call your state legislator and let them know what home care means to you. Contact advocacy@bayada.com for information on what you can do to share your voice and support home health aides.

Home Health Aides Deserve Better Wages! If Done Right, Mandatory Minimum Wage Increases Will Help

Home health aides provide a lifeline to millions of Americans, but low wages make it difficult to recruit and retain enough to keep up with the demand. If done thoughtfully, mandatory minimum wage increases can help support these valuable workers

It’s undisputable: Home health aides provide a lifeline to millions of Americans that need assistance living where they want to be—at home. But low wages often disincentivize home care workers from staying in the field. The problem lies in Medicaid reimbursement rates: Home health aides rely largely on state-determined Medicaid reimbursement rates for their wages, and those rates have stagnated well below the cost of living—and many states have not addressed this in years.

Luckily, many states have proposed increasing the mandatory minimum wage. And while many businesses often oppose such measures—many home care industry leaders have come out in support of it because they recognize the importance of aides in helping keep people at home and earning a fair wage for doing so. But we must ensure that minimum wage increases are done with the recognition that many home care programs rely on state funding to pay their workers. And if that funding isn’t increased in tandem with mandatory minimum wage increases, the state could unintentionally be putting vulnerable residents at risk.

Simply put, if Medicaid reimbursement rates for home care services are not increased at all, or at a rate too low to cover new minimum wage standards, then many home care providers will need to consider whether they can afford to keep their doors open. If providers do decide that they cannot remain sustainable and do decide to forgo providing Medicaid-based home care services, then the real loser is the millions of Americans that rely on that provider to live independently at home. Down the line, this could result in more people who can live at home with help from a home health aide into being forced into nursing homes.  

“People want to live at home. And it’s the most cost-effective option for states. Home health aides are the backbone of our industry and we absolutely support wage increases for our workforce, but states need to be thoughtful in their approach to protect the many seniors and individuals with disabilities that rely on home and community-based services. We are working with state legislatures to make sure that they understand the relationship between rates and wages, and the potential risk to vulnerable residents who need home care,” says BAYADA Chief Government Affairs Officer Dave Totaro.

So far this year, 18 states have started the year with higher minimum wages than the year before. If you live in a state where the minimum wage is set to increase, then you have a unique opportunity to advocate and tell your legislators about the importance of home care and of paying home health aides a living wage. Contact advocacy@bayada.com to find out ways you can play a role in ensuring that home care is accessible to the many that want to stay at home, and that home care workers continue to be attracted to a field that helps them do just that.

States Struggle to Recruit and Retain In-Home Nurses Due to Low Reimbursement Rates… But Advocacy Can Help

Home health care companies around the country struggle to recruit and retain enough qualified workers to support the growing number of children, adults and seniors that want to be cared for in their own homes. Recruitment and retention issues stem from a number of reasons, including the nationwide nursing shortage, low US unemployment rates, and inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates that leave home care providers in a position where their wages cannot compete with those of other settings and industries.

BAYADA Home Health Care was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal article for the company’s efforts in solving for this by recruiting nurses from Puerto Rico to fill open nursing positions in Minneapolis. The island’s unemployment rate, currently at 10.8% is much higher than that of Minneapolis, which is currently listed at 2.4%.

A 2.4% unemployment rate is low even compared to the US rate, which is currently at a 17-year low of 4.1%. This low unemployment rate is compounded by the fact that in many states, Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low for home care providers to be able to recruit and retain workers, who can be paid a higher wage in other settings, like hospitals, and industries, like fast food and retail.

And it doesn’t end with a lack of workers for home care providers. This lack of caregivers can lead to an access to care issue in which individuals who can be cared for at home are left with no option but to receive care in a hospital or institution. Finding qualified caregivers is often cited as home care providers’ top challenge, and future estimates show that demand for in-home care will continue to grow due to the aging of baby boomers at alarming speeds.

What can you do to help? Share your voice. Reimbursement rate review and adjustment decisions are generally made in state capitols when legislators determine that such a need exists. This need must be communicated to legislators so that they understand the pressing nature of the issue and what could happen to the state’s Medicaid population if the issue is not addressed.

We can help you reach your legislators to let them know what increased reimbursement rates mean for you and your community. And if you would like to make an even bigger impact, consider meeting your lawmakers in-person at our Lobby Day. We take care of the scheduling and preparations- all you need to do is show up and share your voice. Upcoming Lobby Days are as follows:

Minneapolis, Minnesota: 3/6/18
Dover, Delaware: 3/14/18
Columbus, South Carolina: 4/4/18
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: 5/22/18
Raleigh, North Carolina: 5/30/18
New Jersey: District office visits 4/20-5/4/18
Maryland: TBD

Contact Rick Hynick to find out what you can do to advocate, whether it be sharing your personal story, contacting your legislators, or participating in an upcoming state Lobby Day!