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Capitol Hill generates wave of bills targeting caregivers

BY Michael Johnsen

While the number of family caregivers who identify themselves as caregivers is still relatively small, the contributions caregivers make toward the health care of others are not lost on Capitol Hill. Indeed, there are at least 21 bills being considered in Congress related to family caregiving, whether directly or indirectly. “More and more, members of Congress are aware of family caregiving,” reported Suzanne Mintz, president and co-founder of the National Family Caregiver Association. “When we meet them on the Hill, there’s a much greater recognition [and appreciation] for how we provide chronic illness care in America.”

The forms of relief being considered for caregiving include direct financial assistance, tax breaks, family leave and enhancements through Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid

What follows is a breakdown of several bills under consideration, the status of that legislation and how each piece helps family caregivers, as provided by the NFCA. The association updates the legislation periodically at its Web site at www.nfcacares.org.

H.R. 1032 Alzheimer’s Treatment and Caregiver Support Act: (Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.)

The bill, currently sitting in the subcommittee on health, was introduced in February and authorizes “such sums as may be necessary” from 2008 through 2013 to expand the grants available for public and nonprofit-sector programs that combine Alzheimer ’s treatment with additional training and support services for family caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. At least 10 percent of the grants would be directed to healthcare facilities that primarily care for medically underserved communities. “Alzheimer’s disease places tremendous burdens on families,” Waters said in February. “My legislation will expand access to training and support services for families and caregivers. As a result, it will improve the ability of caregivers to provide effective, compassionate care and allow more people with Alzheimer’s disease to remain in their homes with people who love them.” According to Waters’ research, more than 70 percent of Alzheimer ’s patients live at home under the care of family and friends.

S. 898, H.R. 1560 Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act: (Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.)

Introduced in March, the bill amends the Public Health Service Act to fund breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s disease research, while providing more help to caregivers and increasing public education about prevention. In fact, the bill would double funding at the National Institutes of Health to $1.3 billion.

The House version is being considered by the House subcommittee on health. The Senate’s version of the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act emerged from committee in July and was placed on the Senate calendar in August. “Not only is this disease awful for the person living with it and devastating for the family caring for their loved one, but it is horrifying to think of the financial impact it will have for our country,” Mikulski stated. “Last year, we spent $120 billion to support people living with Alzheimer’s. If we don’t do something, it could cost us $1 trillion a year by 2050.”

S. 1758, H.R. 3001 Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act: (Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.)

This act, introduced in July, establishes a national insurance program financed by voluntary payroll deductions to help individuals with functional impairments and their families pay for services they need. The bills are in committee in both the House and the Senate. The bills would require individuals opting for the payroll deductions to be at least 18 years old and have contributed to the program at least five years in order to qualify for benefits of between $50 and $100 a day. The bills would allow beneficiaries to purchase services that assist them with such daily activities as bathing and eating, as well as tasks related to communicating, managing money, housekeeping and taking medications. One stated purpose of the bill is “to alleviate burdens on family caregivers.”

“Ten million adults in America currently need long-term services and support,” Kennedy said in a statement introducing the bill. “Many are capable, and are eager to live full lives in their communities, but they are forced to give up their independence and self-sufficiency in order to qualify for Medicaid—the only program that can support them because they are too young for Medicare and the barriers to private insurance are too high and too costly.”

S. 614 Middle Class Opportunity Act: (Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.) H.R. 1911 Tax Relief for Working Caregivers Act (Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.)

The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to expand eligibility for the dependent care tax credit and allow such credit for expenses to care for parents and grandparents who do not reside with the taxpayer. Currently, a caregiver’s mother or father must be living with them in order to claim the credit. Introduced to the Senate in February and to the House in April, the bill is before the Senate committee on finance and the House committee on ways and means, respectively. “Right now, an estimated 16 million Americans find themselves ‘sandwiched’ between two generations, struggling to raise their kids while also caring for an aging loved one,” Donnelly said. “In a society where both child and elder care costs fall on the shoulders of a single generation, we must do more to ensure that working … families are better able to balance the responsibilities of work and family.”

H.R. 1161 Social Security Caregiver Credit Act: (Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.)

Allows unpaid family caregivers to claim Social Security benefits, payable under Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance, as if they had worked for a wage (according to a specified formula) during each month they were engaged for at least 80 hours in providing care to a dependent relative, for up to five years of such service. The bill was introduced in March and is before the House subcommittee on Social Security.

S.1681 Family Leave Insurance Act: (Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Ted Stevens, R-Ark.)

Introduced in June, the bill would provide up to eight weeks of paid leave over a 12-month period to workers needing time off due to the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a child, spouse or parent with serious illness or to care for their own serious illness. Employees will have had to work for the same employer and pay insurance premiums for 12 months to receive the benefits. The bill would create a family leave insurance fund to which employees, employers and the federal government would contribute to share the costs of providing compensation under the act.

The bill is currently before the Senate committee on finance.

“The Family and Medical Leave Act was a major milestone in our nation’s dialogue that acknowledged that families, work-force production and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive,” Dodd said. “It was a critically important first step, but the elimination of needed income during times of crisis in family life is something no hard-working American should experience. I am proud to take the next step in the fight for more comprehensive employee supports by introducing this legislation with Sen. Stevens that will provide workers the income needed to care for their families so that they may [make the] transition back to their jobs as seamlessly as possible.”

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Kroger appoints Going as Michigan division president

BY Adam Kraemer

CINCINNATI The Kroger Co. announced Wednesday that it has named Rick Going president of the company’s new Michigan division.

Kroger currently operates 138 stores in the state; Going will oversee operations in them, effective immediately.

During his 26-year tenure with Kroger, Going has held a number of district- and division-level leadership positions at the store and has served as vice president of Retail Operations and vice president of Merchandising for Kroger’s Cincinnati/Dayton division.

“Rick brings extensive experience in operations and merchandising to this new role,” said Don McGeorge, Kroger’s president and chief operating officer. “We look forward to his leadership as he works with our associates to build on Kroger’s growth in Michigan by focusing on our customers to create even better shopping experiences for them.”

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NACDS responds to “misleading” New York Times article

BY DSN STAFF

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores has fired back at The New York Times after the publication ran an article in its Sept. 18 issue titled, “The ‘Poisonous Cocktail’ of Multiple Drugs.”

The NACDS said the article misrepresented the role of chain pharmacies in the prevention of harmful drug interactions. The article blamed, “places where chain stores have replaced independent pharmacies or when the patient’s drug plan requires that medications be ordered by mail.” The NACDS retaliated by stating that all pharmacists, no matter whether they work in a chain or at an independent pharmacy, counsel patients for drug interactions and rely on medication information for this purpose.

The NACDS said the article misrepresented the role of chain pharmacies in the prevention of harmful drug interactions. The article blamed, “places where chain stores have replaced independent pharmacies or when the patient’s drug plan requires that medications be ordered by mail.” The NACDS retaliated by stating that all pharmacists, no matter whether they work in a chain or at an independent pharmacy, counsel patients for drug interactions and rely on medication information for this purpose.

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