The Bell supports HB 17-1307, which creates the Colorado Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) insurance program in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The FAMLI program would enable employees to pay into a worker-funded insurance program. After making contributions through income deductions, workers could then receive partial wage-replacement benefits to take leave from work for caregiving or for a serious health condition.
We support HB 17-1307 because it ameliorates a workplace reality that is badly out of sync with the needs of Colorado working families. Most of us will be a family caregiver or need to care for ourselves at some point and most of us work. When we need to take unpaid time off from work to provide care or receive it ourselves, our families face an economic squeeze that can affect everything from paying the rent to saving for retirement. It can also have short- and long-term negative consequences on our health or the health of our loved ones. Research shows that a paid leave insurance program will protect Colorado families’ finances and health and allow them greater economic opportunity. Paid leave can become an important support for those caring for older adults, which will become crucial as the proportion of our population age 65 and older continues to rapidly grow.
Informal caregiving for older adults is prevalent in our state and we will see an increased need for it in the future. Nearly half a million Coloradans are currently acting as an unpaid caregiver for someone age 50 or older. More than half of these caregivers are employed and their average age is 50. Population trends show that Colorado’s proportion of adults age 65 and older is growing rapidly – twenty percent of our population will be in this age category by 2030. At the same time, the ratio of family caregivers to those that need care is shrinking. This means that those who are caregivers have less help from within their family. At the same time, caregivers working past traditional retirement age in greater numbers than previous generations.
Informal caregivers provide vital services to older adults. They help them age in their homes and communities, provide a support network, allow them to retain independence and save them the cost of paying for formal caregiving and even higher priced institutional care. Nearly half of unpaid caregivers give their care recipient financial help, including assistance with health costs and personal care.
By assuming some of the cost burden of caring for older adults, informal caregivers also save the state money. Without them, many older Coloradans would be forced to spend down their assets and receive care through Health First Colorado (formerly Medicaid). Research by AARP has
shown that in Colorado, caregivers generated $7.7 million in economic value to the state per year.
But these caregivers pay a hefty financial price to do this important work — $3.7 billion in 2015 ($7,400 per caregiver) in Colorado alone, according to recent analysis from the Colorado Health Institute. These costs result from a combination of forgone wages, forgone benefits, expenses incurred by the caregiver to provide care, and increased health care costs for caregivers themselves. By 2030, the figure is projected to rise to $6.6 billion. A study by MetLife found that on average, those caring for aging parents could potentially lose out on $304,000 in retirement funds (from a combination of lost wages, lower social security benefits and smaller private pensions). CHI’s research shows that Colorado employers also shoulder costs, in the form of absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover and increased health costs for their workers – over $500 million in 2015 alone.
Caregivers can experience negative health impacts. Employees providing eldercare are significantly more likely to report depression, diabetes, hypertension, or pulmonary disease regardless of age, gender, and work type. The demands of providing eldercare are associated with greater health risk behaviors. Because most of these caregivers are also older adults, it is more probable that they will have a chronic health condition or a disability.
The bipartisan Colorado Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging (SAPGA) released recommendations around caregiver support after a robust, 18-month information gathering process that included some of the information I’ve provided to you. Specifically, SAPGA found that the General Assembly should “establish family leave policies that set standards for compensating employees who are caring for aging family members,” which could include a FAMLI-type program. As a proud participant in SAPGA, the Bell is glad to see this bill up for consideration.
Lastly, Colorado voters support the creation of a FAMLI program, as you’ve already heard. Last summer, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the SCAN Foundation found that nationally there is even greater demand for state programs to provide paid family when people consider how it can help defray the costs of caregiving and save for their own long-term care. Seventy-two percent of adults over 40 support it as a strategy to help caregivers face the costs of providing long-term care.