Labor Department Regulation Will Increase Costs, Restrict Access to Companion Care
Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Would Face Difficult Choices
WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 20, 2012
The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), today held a hearing entitled, “Ensuring Regulations Protect Access to Affordable and Quality Companion Care.” The hearing examined a Labor Department regulatory proposal that would make it more costly for individuals to receive in-home care.
In 1974, Congress created an exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for companion care workers. For more than four decades, the exemption has helped seniors and individuals with disabilities maintain access to affordable in-home care. However, a regulatory proposal introduced by the Labor Department would severely narrow this long-standing exemption, jeopardizing the quality and affordability of these important services.
“The department’s proposed regulation essentially overturns decades of companionship care policy,” said Rep. Walberg. “These changes run contrary to what Congress intended when it first established this important exemption nearly four decades ago. While I recognize the delivery of services has evolved over the years, the need to maintain access to affordable in-home care has not.”
Marie Woodard described the important role companion care played in her family. From 2004 to 2011, Ms. Woodard’s parents received personal in-home services, with providers often working 12-hour days to help ensure a consistently high standard of care.
As Ms. Woodard testified, “My family was fortunate to be able to abide by my parents’ wishes to receive excellent care, stay in their own home, to be cared for by caregivers who cared for them as if they were their own mother and father, and to be able to die in their home. It was heart wrenching to watch my parents as they aged and became ill, I can only imagine how hard our lives would have been if we were forced to place them in a nursing home.”
Unfortunately, the Labor Department’s proposed regulation would limit affordable access to this indispensable support. The department’s own estimates project the costs of companion care would increase anywhere from $420 million to $2.3 billion over the first ten years, and there are serious concerns the department has drastically understated the true cost of its proposal. As noted by William Dombi, vice president for law at the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, the department’s proposal “fails to comply with requirements that the department undertake a comprehensive and reliable impact analysis before issuing the proposal.”
The state of Michigan is already dealing with fallout from this flawed policy after implementing similar changes to state law in 2006. According to Wynn Esterline, owner of an in-home companion care business in Adrian, MI, “This new Michigan law drastically changed my business, negatively affecting my caregivers and the seniors we serve. No one is better off than they were before this change went into effect, not me, not my clients, and certainly not my employees. I firmly believe that the rest of the country is headed for the edge of this same cliff.”
Watch below as Mr. Esterline describes his personal experience with two clients who were forced to give up their independence and move into institutional care due to changes impacting in-home services in Michigan:
“The act of making responsible public policy often involves finding a balance between competing interests,” concluded Rep. Walberg. “Current policies that govern the delivery of in-home companion care have served our nation well for nearly forty years. The administration has a responsibility to provide a clear and compelling reason why that important balance must now be upset and a greater burden must be placed on some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
A transcript of today’s hearing will be submitted to the Labor Department as part of its official record on the proposed companion care regulation. To learn more about this hearing, read witness testimony, or watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.