Recent reports discuss the growing labor shortage in the home care industry. In many cases, retired nurses and teachers, some of whom are in their 80s, are returning to work in droves to help others their same age. The phenomenon has been called “seniors helping seniors.”
In one sense, this news is wholesome and encouraging. People are stepping up to help one another. In another sense, the story reveals a major problem in our medical and home-care service industries. By 2030, one in five adults will be 65 or older. Can we really continue to rely on the good faith of retirees to keep up with the growing demand for at-home care?
That’s not even half the problem. The labor shortage for aging-in-place adults does not stop at medical-specific care. From my experience founding and growing The Helper Bees, a marketplace for aging-in-place services, I know this labor shortage extends to hundreds of small weekly tasks—from lawn care to grocery shopping—that enable older adults to maintain their chosen lifestyle at home.
Let’s talk about the current state of in-home support services—and why it’s critical to make non-medical services easier to access.
Almost 9 out of 10 seniors aspire to age in place. They want the autonomy and self-reliance of living within the comfort of their own homes. But what does it take for the average person to make this happen?
The unfortunate reality is that as each of us gets older, our needs expand. The needs everyone thinks of when it comes to aging are medical-related needs. Sure, it’s true that we’ll spend more time consulting with doctors and paying closer attention to our health as we age. But there is also a large list of secondary and tertiary in-home service needs that are necessary for people to age comfortably at home that go beyond medical. These include everyday services such as transportation, home maintenance, and errands.
These services are not directly medical-related. But they can have a real impact on a person’s physical and mental health. For a long time, seniors couldn’t access these non-medical services through their insurance providers, greatly limiting how many people could enjoy aging in place. Fortunately, that changed in 2019 thanks to policy changes for Medicare Advantage.
Until just a few years ago, Medicare Advantage funded only a handful of non-medical related services. They included hearing, vision, and dental. In 2019, these services were greatly expanded. Medicare Advantage now covers services such as lawn care, meal delivery, physical training, and much more.
But there remains another challenge. Just because the services are available to Medicare Advantage members doesn’t mean those services are easy to access.
The reality is that older adults who need in-home support may not possess the technical expertise to navigate how to find these supplemental benefits. The task usually falls to family caregivers, often the children of the older adults who have busy lives or are caring for their own kids. This group, known as the “sandwich generation,” is known to struggle with mental, emotional, and physical burnout due to their growing list of tasks to help their families thrive.
One of the major challenges insurance companies, aging-in-place adults, and Medicare Advantage programs face is connecting credible service providers to the people who need them. When a person wants their lawn mowed, where can they turn to take advantage of their Medicare Advantage benefit?
Companies have emerged to fill this need, offering to provide a streamlined way for aging adults to connect with in-home support providers who meet the criteria of their insurance companies. The key is to combine high-tech with high-touch, allowing technology to shorten the distance between needs and response times, without losing the personal human element that is so vital in professional services.
In their report, The Future of Medicare Advantage, ATI Advisory called out the challenge of aiding caregivers as one of the key steps to improving Medicare Advantage:
“Reducing the burden on enrolled beneficiaries and their caregivers by streamlining and simplifying information around and access to plan choices, benefits, appeals processes, and other cumbersome practices.”
ATI Advisory discussed this specifically within the case of medical needs, but I believe it extends to all forms of in-home support. To make aging-in-place possible, we must have enough people to meet the demand, medical and beyond, of an aging population. Doing so will require a combination of continued good faith, smart healthcare policy, high-quality in-home service providers, and the technology to bring it all together.