Let’s work together for caregivers
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My grandparents were my heroes. They raised me, so I know firsthand the joys that come from growing up in a grandfamily. But, I also know the struggles.

When I was 9, I was diagnosed with a serious childhood illness similar to spinal meningitis. I spent three months in the hospital. My grandparents had health insurance — a family plan — but it excluded grandchildren and didn’t cover my care. I got better, and when my grandparents looked for an insurance policy that would cover me they discovered that, because of this illness, they couldn’t find such a policy. Not from any insurer. Not at any price. I was branded with the words “pre-existing condition.” My grandparents were forced to make great sacrifices to pay for the care I needed. And, of course, they did it without a second thought because that’s what a family does.

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So when my grandmother grew older, I did not hesitate to serve as her primary caretaker. It was my honor to give back after everything she and my grandfather had done for me.

Being a caretaker for her was extremely rewarding, but also challenging. I often struggled to find the best resources and assistance in the community on other aspects of her care.

Growing up in my grandfamily and being a caregiver shaped my future in public service and my priorities in the U.S. House of Representatives, and now in the Senate. We have a shared responsibility to guarantee that everyone has access to quality, affordable healthcare and the ability to live and age with support and dignity. This is why I am proud to work across party lines on legislation to support our caregivers by working with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy MORE (R-Maine) to introduce the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, as well as the Credit for Caring Act, introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). There are so many opportunities for both parties to work together to improve healthcare for families. These are just two examples of what we need more of in Washington — bipartisan action to strengthen and support healthcare for Americans.

Family caregivers are integral to our country’s long-term care system and our economy, but they are too often overlooked as part of the care team for seniors and those with disabilities. At a time when America’s population is aging and the need for care and support is increasing, the contributions by family caregivers will only become more vital. According to reports, in 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States, including 578,000 family caregivers in my home state of Wisconsin, provided almost half a trillion dollars in unpaid care to adults who needed help with daily activities such as bathing, meal preparation and transportation.

Despite this significant contribution, family caregivers usually don’t receive any training, education or support in their caregiving role. What is more, while providing this needed care to their loved ones, most family caregivers are also struggling to juggle their own work schedules and financial needs.

The bipartisan Credit for Caring Act would help alleviate some of the financial stresses of caregiving by providing a tax credit to working family caregivers who incur caregiving-related expenses like transporting a loved one, home modifications to accommodate a family member’s special needs and medication services.

If we are serious about ensuring that our older adults and loved ones with disabilities receive the highest quality care in their own homes, we must also formally recognize and support family caregivers as an official member of the healthcare and long-term care team.

My bipartisan RAISE Family Caregivers Act would do this by having federal agencies, family caregivers, older adults and other experts contribute to the creation of a national strategy on family caregivers, including a plan for federal and local action to address areas such as financial security, training and supports, education and care coordination.

If the RAISE Family Caregivers Act or the Credit for Caring Act had been in place when I was my grandmother’s caretaker, I know it would have been a tremendous help for me and other caregivers. Today, with an aging America, and Wisconsin, it is my hope that my colleagues in Congress can join me in support of this bipartisan effort to strengthen long-term care.

Let’s work together to celebrate and support family caregivers who are making a difference in the lives of loved ones and families every day.

Baldwin is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.