Caring is cost-effective

Bernadette Lynch is executive director of Sacramento County’s In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority

It seems that a government program can become too successful.

For years, California has been on the cutting edge in terms of caring for its ill, elderly and disabled citizens. One of the primary tools in maintaining that edge has been In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), a program so successful that it’s become a model for programs in other states. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts threaten IHSS, but the governor’s plan ultimately may end up costing the state and communities more money than the funds required to maintain the program.

IHSS allows people with illnesses and disabilities to maintain their independence and dignity in their own homes by providing public funding for caregivers. Without this funding, many of the caregivers, who are often family members, could not afford to provide care. They would have to find employment elsewhere.

If that happens, many of the IHSS consumers could end up institutionalized, with the state footing the bill. The average cost of institutionalizing a patient in a nursing home is about $43,000 per year. The average cost for an IHSS caregiver is only about $4,800 per year.

The governor’s proposal effectively would reduce caregiver wages to $6.75 an hour—minimum wage. Additionally, the proposal would eliminate the health benefits some of the caregivers now receive. This would push the caregivers out of the private health-care system and onto the public dole, ultimately costing the state millions of additional dollars. The proposed cuts, if realized, also would result in the loss of more than $50 million California receives from the federal government for some of these programs.

Home care is something that touches nearly all our lives; at some point, we are all caregivers or care receivers. Schwarzenegger and his extended family have been major supporters of the Special Olympics. Someone has to care for these men and women, boys and girls, when they are too old or too ill to compete. IHSS and the public authorities that administer it, fill that need.

But this isn’t just a Special Olympics issue. Illness and disability can strike anyone at any time. You or I could need care tomorrow, and without IHSS as a safety net, we’d be left to fend for ourselves. Like all of us, the aged, the ill and those with disabilities have a right to independence and dignity. IHSS maintains that right!