Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Employee benefit: elder care

I read in an article recently that, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, family members spend an average of 22 hours per week on care for their elderly relatives. Another study, published in 2002, notes that 35 percent of employees care for an elderly relative. Seven years later in 2009, that number is surely higher.

If you're caring for an aged parent in your home, or helping to manage their care nearby, you already know how much time you devote to this job. Not all of it is going to be spent before or after you come home from work. You may have to use your own sick or vacation time to take your parent to a doctor's appointment. Perhaps you need to check in on them during the day. And then there may be meals to be provided, emergencies, a whole host of demands both predictable and not, that impinge on your work day and, indirectly, on the mental clarity you can focus on your job.

There's a growing awareness among employers that elder care issues can affect their employees. Some employers are now offering backup care benefits for just these situations. Like other types of insurance benefits, backup care benefits provide highly subsidized hourly rates, and vetted caregivers, from a selected provider. For example, if you need a caregiver for a few hours here and there, the benefit might pay as much as 80% of the hourly rate, leaving you with a modest few dollars per hours to pay for the service.

Right now it is mostly very large companies that offer this benefit. But I want to publicize it here and urge you to speak to your employer about offering this benefit as an option. It's no longer uncommon to provide backup care benefits for child rearing emergencies. And it's quite possible that that one single service provider could create a program that provides backup care services both for children and for the elderly. Another option could be to find out whom else among your co-workers needs this type of backup care. If your employer can't offer you the benefit as part of insurance, a group of you could select a provider on your own and, by sheer force of numbers, negotiate a lower rate with them.

Sometimes all it takes is more people making their need for certain types of coverage known, for a change to take place. Either way, the benefit to your employer is clear: less absenteeism and better productivity from employees.

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