Advocates for the elderly in Hawaii are hoping a new study puts additional pressure on state lawmakers to pass legislation next session that helps overloaded family caregivers.

AARP has found that there is a dwindling pool of people who provide an increasing amount of free care for their loved ones.

Improvements in how hospitals discharge patients and insurance coverage for the instruction of family caregivers could make meaningful differences, supporters of the proposed reforms say.

AARP Caregiver Meeting

AARP members listen during a meeting of the Legislative Family Caregivers Working Group on Thursday.

AARP

In 2013, there were 154,000 family caregivers in Hawaii providing unpaid care valued at $2.1 billion, according to an AARP report released late Wednesday.

A previous study, which used 2009 data, found that 169,000 family caregivers statewide were providing unpaid care worth $1.9 billion.

Wearing their matching red shirts, AARP members filled half a conference room at the Capitol on Thursday for the first meeting of the Legislative Family Caregivers Working Group.

Lawmakers created the group via resolution last session to examine and discuss a litany of issues concerning family caregivers. 

Unlike the diverse group of stakeholders formed the year prior to tackle these concerns, this group is comprised solely of state lawmakers, including Reps. Della Au Belatti, Dee Morikawa and Gregg Takayama along with Sens. Roz Baker and Suzanne Chun Oakland.

Keith Ridley, who heads the Department of Health’s Office of Healthcare Assurance, addressed the lawmakers Thursday, explaining where the previous group had left off.

He said it had come up with five recommendations for the Legislature. But the report wasn’t delivered until midway through the session and the group lacked consensus on a top issue.

A measure that was opposed by the majority of group members, Senate Bill 296, would have required hospitals to provide patients the opportunity to designate a caregiver upon admission. It stalled in February after the Hawaii Department of Health testified that the working group should continue to explore the issue before taking action.

Although the working group had advised against passing the bill, the vote on the recommendation was not unanimous. AARP and others supported it, but faced opposition from the Chamber of Commerce along with public and private hospitals.

Seventeen other states have passed similar measures, according to the AARP.

“What advocates want to do is ensure that family caregivers who aren’t paid to provide care (the ones cited in the new report) have adequate instruction in the tasks they need to perform at home after discharge,” AARP Hawaii spokesman Bruce Bottorff said Thursday.

“A big reason for this emphasis on unpaid care is that the high cost of paid care in Hawaii is prohibitive for many families,” he said.

Belatti said the new working group plans to meet monthly through December.

She said the group has laid out areas to delve deeper into and plans to find out what community resources are already available. The group will also explore how funding currently flows through the system and what other states are doing.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but have some months before the next legislative session,” Belatti said.

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