Obama Proposes Plan To Extend Labor Protections to Home Care Workers
On Thursday, President Obama proposed new regulations that would guarantee the 1.8 million home health care workers in the U.S. minimum wage and overtime protections, AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hananel, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15).
The rules would call for home health aides to be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act (Greenhouse, New York Times, 12/15). Workers in the industry have been exempt from federal wage laws since 1974, when they were included in the same "companion" category as occasional babysitters (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15).
However, many aides now provide more complex services, such as tube feeding, wound care and physical therapy assistance.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a case filed by home health care worker Evelyn Coke that such employees are not entitled to overtime pay under the current rules (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 12/15).
While some states extend wage protections to home health care workers, 29 do not (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15). As a result, while the majority of home care aides are paid at least minimum wage, most do not receive time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours a week, according to industry experts (New York Times, 12/15).
The Department of Labor will allow public comments during a 60-day period before issuing final rules in early 2012 (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15).
The Need for Regulations
According to supporters of the new regulation, the need for new regulations is made evident by the fact that many home health care workers struggle financially. The Obama administration noted that 40% of home care workers -- of which 92% are women, 30% are black and 12% are Hispanic -- receive public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps (New York Times, 12/15).
Further, home health care is a growing industry. The number of full-time home care workers has increased along with the number of elderly U.S. residents who prefer in-home care over institutional care (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15).
About six million of the 40 million U.S. residents over age 65 need some form of daily assistance to live outside of a nursing home. Federal officials expect that number to double to 12 million by 2030.
Proposed Rule Criticized by GOP
Some Republican lawmakers and business groups criticized the proposed rule, which they say could increase care costs.
They added that the new rule could cause staffing agencies to cut the hours of aides who work more than 40 hours a week and elect to hire additional workers instead (New York Times, 12/15). Of the 1.8 million home health care workers in the U.S., 1.59 million work for staffing agencies (CQ HealthBeat, 12/15).
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said, "The president's goal is commendable, but the likely result of this new rule is reduced hours for home care workers and higher costs for taxpayers" (New York Times, 12/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.