Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

personal assistance

Five personal reasons why I want our lawmakers to vote FOR the health care reform bill, imperfect though it is…

Five personal reasons why I want our lawmakers to vote FOR the health care reform bill, imperfect though it is:

1. I hope that some of my disabled sisters and brothers currently in nursing facilities will be able to leave the institutions, and receive the support they need under the bill’s plan to improve Medicaid. Among other provisions, states would be offered a 6% increase in the federal Medicaid match, to encourage them to provide community-based personal attendant services.

2. I hope that some future people with disabilities — which could include any of our aging parents, our returning veterans, or anyone else among us — will be able to get the assistance they need in their own homes, without impoverishing themselves to qualify for Medicaid, through the bill’s long term care insurance services program.

3. I hope that some of my attendants who are currently unable to afford health insurance, or unable to obtain it due to pre-existing conditions, will finally have access to health care. They work incredibly hard supporting my and other people’s health, independence, and quality of life, yet this important job does not provide them with employer-sponsored health insurance. I sincerely hope there will soon be affordable, meaningful, portable coverage available to them.

4. I believe, deeply, that health care is a human right. This bill takes an incremental step toward fulfilling that right, for some people. It’s not enough, but it may be a start.

5. I want to defeat these assholes.

Literature of Personal Assistance

Personal assistance services — hands-on help provided to support daily living — is an experience very familiar to disabled people, as well as to people who are elderly, ill, or recovering from injury. Yet it rarely shows up in literature.

When it does, it can offer fascinating insights into the dynamics involved in the exchange of what’s often called “care” or “caregiving.” A couple of years ago, I wrote an article analyzing two writers of creative nonfiction, Nancy Mairs and Paul Monette, who wrote about giving and receiving personal assistance to a loved one. That article has just been published in the online literary journal The Sylvan Echo. You can read it here.

I’m always interested in reading (and writing) literary descriptions of personal assistance. Let me know if you find other good examples.

Gas Prices and Home Care

I’ve been working with a health care union to try to improve compensation for home care workers, and to enable such workers to organize themselves to have a voice in public policymaking. I’m concerned that people who are doing such important jobs, providing services that are essential to the well-being and independence of disabled and older people, earn such low pay and receive few or no benefits. They support our health, and they often cannot get health care for themselves or their children.

Now rising gas prices are putting even more pressure on home care workers, and causing reductions in needed services. According to an article in Saturday’s New York Times, a recent survey by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice concluded that home health and hospice workers drove 4.8 billion miles in 2006 to serve 12 million clients. These low-paid workers are not usually reimbursed for mileage.

I’ve known home health aides who had to borrow money just to buy enough fuel to get to work. Now that problem is growing, nationwide.

Not only do high gas prices hurt workers; this phenomenon also further escalates our country’s institutional bias. Nursing facilities gain yet another competitive advantage over home care: Facilities can offer employees eight-hour shifts in one location, in contrast to the multiple trips that may be involved in home care workers’ schedules.

State and federal Medicaid officials should recognize this, and level the playing field by factoring travel costs into reimbursement rates.