Inflation and its impact on people with disabilities

Tamara Gallman

January 11, 2023

Have you recently been to the grocery store? Did you look at the cost of bread or milk and wonder how it got this high? Unfortunately, rising prices are affecting all of us and impacting every sector of our lives, from food and clothing to healthcare expenses. As someone with a severe physical disability, I’m all too familiar with the impact of inflation on my healthcare expenses and, specifically, the cost of caregiving.

I haven’t always been disabled. So, extensive healthcare expenses are a relatively new issue for me. In May 2011, I was in a natural gas explosion in my home. The devastating accident left me paralyzed with multiple injuries and trauma that have created ongoing health issues. I have had an estimated 40 surgeries, some major and others minor, which required numerous hospitalizations. As a result of my tumultuous medical history, I need and utilize the services of a home health aide. A home health aide can help you live independently at home by assisting with activities of daily living. I need a home health aide to help me with the activities of daily living, including showering, dressing, cooking, driving to and from medical appointments, and monitoring medical diagnoses. For example, I recently went to church, and my home health aide accompanied me. During the service, I began to feel dizzy and lightheaded. I didn’t know what was wrong. She quickly grabbed a nurse at the church. They checked my blood pressure and realized it was dangerously high. Because of her, I could get to the ER promptly and avoid a significant health crisis like a stroke. It is also because of my home health aide that I can work.

Home care workers are essential. They often assist elderly adults, people with disabilities, and people with chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes with various daily needs to keep them healthy and prevent hospitalizations. According to Protected Health Information (PHI), more than 2 million home care workers across the U.S. provide personal assistance and healthcare support to older adults and people with disabilities in home and community-based settings. The demand and need are there. PHI also notes that the home care workforce is primarily women and people of color. In recent years, the home care workforce has more than doubled, from nearly 899,000 in 2008 to almost 2.3 million in 2018.

With long-haul Covid and an aging population, the demand for caregiving services is growing even more. 

So, how has inflation impacted this essential service? According to Zippia, the overall consumer price index (CPI) increased by 7.7% over the past 12 months (October 2021- October 2022). Even more surprising, the 12-month services inflation rate has risen from 1.36% to 4.79%. In other words, I used to pay $16 an hour for caregiving services, and now I pay $27 an hour. And this is a struggle for me - a person with a good job. I often wonder about people with disabilities who are on a fixed income and have no wiggle room in their budget for substantial increases caused by inflation. How can they afford it? And most private insurance companies do not pay for home health caregiving services. Medicare is a little different. According to the Medicare website, “they do not pay for “custodial or personal care that helps you with daily living activities (like bathing, dressing, or using the bathroom) when this is the only care you need.” I understand that to mean that if you need a nurse (which is a separate cost), you may also have home health aide services. However, Medicare does not provide daily support. Instead, support is given through an hourly limit. So, you may need help with medication, showering, and going to a doctor’s appointment. But you might be unable to do all three of those in one day.  

Let’s also consider how inflation is impacting the home healthcare worker. Recruiting adequate numbers of home care workers to fill these jobs is becoming difficult, as evidenced by continual reports of workforce shortages. Not only that, home care workers earn, on average, $13,300 annually. Wages are low, and access to employer-provided benefits is rare. As a result, demand grows as shortages increase. Each year Genworth Financial conducts a cost of care survey that tracks the cost of care for home and facility care. Their most recent data shows that for 2021 the price of a home health aide increased by 12.5%. Unfortunately, the home care worker shortage worsened during the pandemic. In addition, workers say their job is mentally demanding, physically taxing, and marked by uncertainty, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation reports last year. 

The bottom line is that home health aides are extremely difficult to afford, and they are difficult to hire and retain. But they are crucial to the health and well-being of the most vulnerable in our community. Unfortunately, the industry has not effectively supported home healthcare workers. As a result, many quickly leave despite their intimate and personal role in their patient’s life. 

I had a home health aide who worked for five years. She became a part of my family. She knew when I was getting sick before I did and often engaged in preventive efforts that kept me from experiencing even more hospitalizations. She monitored my progress and guided me on staying healthy. I loved her and missed her every day. I know home health aides are crucial to the quality of life for people with disabilities. So how do we help those affected by inflation with the cost of caregiving services? I don’t know. But we cannot forget the critical need for this service and ignore the high cost of this expense.

Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women throughout history and recognize the challenges they have overcome to achieve equality. This month is a time to reflect on the intersectional experiences of women, including those with disabilities. Women with disabilities have been at the forefront of the fight for disability rights and have significantly contributed to society.