Minnesota is busily preparing for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. With rising health care costs, frustration with our health care delivery system and a rapidly aging population, it behooves us to ask: do we want a health care system that recognizes the importance of living at home and the people who make that possible, Minnesota’s home health aides?
In Minnesota, these workers are among the lowest paid in the health care industry. Not only are home health aides typically considered “elder sitters”—a vivid example of the undignified treatment seniors can experience—but it also devalues the important work done by home health aides that allows people to stay at home longer.
As of May 2011, the Occupational Employment Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 33,790 home health aides in the state of Minnesota earn an average hourly wage of $11.16. Compare that to the average rate Minnesota families pay to home health care agencies for home health aides: $25 per hour.
Home health aides will become more and more important as baby boomers continue to age and want to stay in their homes. The Minnesota Department of Health projects that by 2030, 1.2 million Minnesotans will be over 65 years of age or older, compared to approximately 600,000 at the beginning of the century. As expensive as it is, the in-home health care they provide keeps Medicare costs down. Other direct support for seniors and people with disabilities keep Medicaid cost down for the state and federal government.
Do we value the people who make living at home possible for the elderly and chronically ill? Do we value the elderly and chronically ill? During this session, the Minnesota Legislature has debated allowing personal care attendants and in home childcare workers to vote to unionize. Perhaps it’s time to encourage home health aides to organize as well.