GOP attacks ‘micromanaging’ home care regs

Republicans are charging the Obama administration with trying to overregulate workers who provide in-home care to the elderly and people with disabilities.

The new Labor Department regulations set a “rigid set of arbitrary standards” for workers, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said on Wednesday, and will only end up hurting the people who rely on those caregivers.

“This is a highly prescriptive, intrusive standard imposed on vulnerable Americans,” he said in his opening statement at a House Education and the Workforce subcommittee hearing.

“Why does the administration believe it has the authority to micromanage the care an individual receives in the comfort of his or her own home?" he added. Walberg is the chairman of the Workforce Protections subcommittee.

In September, the Labor Department issued rules granting minimum wage and overtime standards to the nearly 2 million healthcare workers who provide a range of services to people in their homes. The rule ended an exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which labor groups have called a loophole that allowed businesses to shortchange their workers.

The exemption, which was established in 1974, was originally meant to cover neighbors who sit with the elderly, but supporters of the regulation say that it is long out of date.

“It is clear that people performing these back-breaking tasks day in and day out deserve a fair day’s wages,” said Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

Both Courtney and Walberg said that they had personally dealt with caregivers who helped their aging parents.

"My dad had a home health aid at the end of his life, and I remember to this day the guy who stayed with him for hours at a very difficult time,” Courtney said.

Republicans and owners of homecare worker companies testifying before the subcommittee worried that the new rules would increase costs for families that rely on the care, especially as the baby boomer generation ages.

“The new rule will force me to make some very hard decisions in order to continue providing care,” said Lucy Andrews, vice chairwoman of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and owner of a home care company in California. ”With the requirement for overtime compensation, I will either need to restrict [employees’] working hours or increase the charges to my clients.”

She said that that problem is only compounded by the looming ObamaCare mandate that companies with 50 or more employees provide health insurance to their workers or pay a fine.

Under those conditions, “we will be in the middle of the perfect storm,” Andrews said.

Worker organizations objected to the fact that the subcommittee held a hearing on the new rules.

The lawmakers’ probe would not help the Obama administration issue a fair and just rule, said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a statement.

“Rather, it is intended to stoke fear among the elderly and people with disabilities and to needlessly pit the interests of caregivers against those for whom they care.”

The new regulations are set to take effect in January 2015.