Top 3 Caregiver Concerns of the 2012 Election

What's keeping you up at night this election season—besides ever-present worries and wandering parents?

Solutions to a multitude of different problems are being debated by President Obama and Governor Romney, but AgingCare.com was curious to discover which issues are most important to people taking care of elderly loved ones.

Nearly 600 caregivers responded to our poll question: "Which election issue do you think will affect caregivers the most?"

More than 87 percent of respondents reported being preoccupied by one of three issues: Medicare and Medicaid, health care reform, and the economy.

Top caregiver concern: Medicare/Medicaid (31.78 % of caregivers)

Seniors and many of their caregivers depend on Medicare and Medicaid to help pay for medical care. Unfortunately, both programs are facing a future of reduced benefits and eventual insolvency if no action is taken to curb costs and increase revenue.

Jo Anne May, a baby boomer caring for her elderly mother-in-law, poses the question that is sure to be on the mind of many caregivers as they contemplate the outlook of Medicare and Medicaid: "Will the funds and services be in place when caregivers arrive at the point where they are the ones being taken care of?"

May knows how valuable Medicare can be—she relies on the program to help cover the cost of medical bills from a workplace injury sustained shortly after she and her husband assumed their roles as caregivers.

She points out that, besides taking care of aging relatives, health issues seem to be the common thread that runs through the caregiver community.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that caregivers have a higher risk developing depression and various chronic illnesses as a result of the stress associated with taking care of a loved one.

A close second: Health Care Reform (28.32% of caregivers)

The issue of health care reform touches every American, but is particularly important for caregivers and seniors because of how it may affect the quality of and access to affordable medical services.

Here again, May poses the key question: "My mother-in-law can expect a certain level of medical care now, my question would be can I expect that same level of care?"

American health care is a costly endeavor that is expected to encompass about 20 percent of the gross domestic product—the total values of all goods and services made in the U.S.—by the year 2020.

After years of working in the medical field, May has seen first-hand the effect that physician shortages, reduced benefits, and unaffordable insurance can have on people trying to obtain health care.

Unaffordable insurance is of particular concern to caregivers, many of whom are forced to forgo full-time employment (and thus are disqualified from many employer-provided health insurance programs) to care for a loved one.

No matter who is elected in November, when it comes to health reform, it's the overall uncertainty that May finds most disconcerting. "It appears as if this election brings the possibility of so many changing issues and reforms," she says.

A closer third: The Economy (26.94% of caregivers)

Caregivers face a multitude of financial concerns, from figuring out how to help pay for senior's medical bills, to protecting their own savings from being depleted by the costs of taking care of a loved one.

According to a survey conducted by AARP, in 2007, family caregivers spent an average of $5,531 to care for an aging relative. Economic factors like inflation, unemployment, the housing market crash, tax increases and stock market volatility all play a role in making these expenses easier or more difficult to bear.

A caregiver to both of her elderly parents, Becky Rehak knows how costly it can be to just pay for the simple things—Depends, Ensure, etc.—that aren't covered by a senior's insurance. She's worried about the impact of ongoing inflation on the costs of everyday items.

"If prices continue to rise, will we be able to afford the "extras" like dinner out, a church group trip, or even newspaper delivery? Right now, these are important things that help keep my parents' life somewhat normal," she says.

Job security is another concern for Rehak. She and her husband both work outside the home—a financial necessity for someone taking care of multiple elders.

Another person for whom economic issues are of paramount concern is 41-year-old life coach Saideh Browne.

Caring for a grandmother who tells her stories of the difficulties of growing up during the Great Depression has given Browne a uniquely sobering perspective on the impact of the economy. "It gets me thinking about the debt we're going to leave to our children," she says.

Browne has two sons, one of whom has just graduated college with no job and thousands of dollars in student loan debt. "In my family, we we're taught that if we went to college, got a job, showed up on time and didn't use the company phone, then we'd be okay. I can't say that to my kids."

She's also concerned about her own financial future, and laments that she doesn't know when (or if) her or her father (with whom she shares caregiving responsibilities) will be able to retire.

And while the other campaign issues are certainly significant, Browne feels that the next president needs to make economic recovery their top priority. "Without economic stability the other issues don't really matter," she says, "Yes, gun control and the environment are important, but right now my grandmother needs clothes."

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