In recent weeks, minimum wages for home health aides has been a theme for discussion in the news. Surprisingly enough, most home health aides will not be included in any potential increase to the current $7.25 an hour rate. Many health aides are grouped with babysitters in U.S. labor laws, and so those who hire them are exempt from paying them any greater wages than you would a babysitter.
Despite their differences, the category these occupations share is called “companionship worker.” This category assumes that home health aides spend at least 80% of their workweek solely keeping a patient company. Consider the inaccuracy and insulting nature of the following quote: What they do is static, there’s not a lot of effort.” This was from Val Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. It should come as little surprise that this group represents the owners of home health agencies, not their employees. In fact, the organization believes that the workers should not be compensated with an overtime bonus.
Home health aids don’t simply offer a companionship service, it’s real work. They help patients into the shower, change bedding and even help with the morning dishes. Older folks needing extra help to stay in their home are often limited to a fixed income, and what should be a more fair wage could be out of their limited budgets. Medicare only covers limited home health assistance. In some states Medicaid is beginning to cover some of these services, but only after the person has spent down their assets to near-poverty levels and only if they meet criteria for need in specified activities of daily living.
The cruel joke of the matter, is that home assistance could prevent accidents that might end up resulting in even more severe health complications. But on the opposite, the low wages forced on a number of caregivers means many of those workers require government assistance to provide the bare essentials like food on the table for their own families.