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National Family Caregiver Support Program 10th Anniversary Celebration

Washington, DC
November 17, 2010

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you for that very kind introduction.

Kathy and I have been friends and colleagues for a long time. And I don’t know anyone who works harder to make sure our seniors get the care and services they need.

I am delighted to be here today for such a special anniversary.

Our mission at the Department of Health and Human Services is to improve the health and well-being of every American. Everyday we work closely with doctors and educators, hospitals, nurses and scientists to achieve that goal.

But we never forget that the majority of the care that millions of Americans count on to stay healthy and live independently is delivered by family members, friends and neighbors. They may not even describe themselves as caregivers. But they are indispensable. And they form the foundation of our health care system.

Altogether, family caregivers provide nearly 80 percent of the long-term care services that allow countless Americans to remain safely in their homes and communities.

Ten years ago, we took an important step forward to support family caregivers. The creation of the National Family Caregiver Support Program was a turning point: the first piece of federal legislation to recognize the value and critical importance of the role that family caregivers play.

The Program provides real support. It says: No one should have to do this alone -- everyone deserves help.

At the program’s core is an understanding that being a family caregiver is very hard work. It is unpredictable. It is expensive. It is physically demanding and it can take an emotional toll.

But it is a selfless act of compassion and love. It deserves to be recognized. And more importantly, to be supported.

That is what the National Family Caregiver Support Program set out to do. And ten years later, we are here to celebrate tremendous progress.

We are here to thank the people who helped make it possible, like Jeanette Takamura. As Assistant Secretary for Aging, her leadership and perseverance not only helped move this groundbreaking legislation across the finish line, it also made sure the program would be responsive and relevant to the people it was meant to serve.

She reached out to caregivers across the nation, listening to their personal stories and experiences to understand exactly what kind of support they needed.

Today, that support is needed more than ever. Families across the country are facing additional challenges as they balance difficult economic times with the stresses of providing care to their loved ones and helping them remain independent.

The average family caregiver spends 20 hours a week caring for their loved ones, while one out of eight spends 40 hours or more. Nearly half of working caregivers indicate that as caregiving expenses have gone up they have used up all or most of their savings.

At times, it may seem like it is all nearly too much to bear. But there is help. And thanks in part to the National Family Caregiver Support Program, that help continues to grow stronger and reach further.

I’ve seen the networks and coalitions make a powerful difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of caregivers across the county.

It is someone to offer advice or to share a common experience.

It is someone to provide respite care after a sleepless night or simply to offer another pair of hands when the task ahead is just too much for one person to manage on his or her own.

Family caregivers are everywhere and they come from all walks of life.

In addition to that 48-year old woman caring for her mom with Alzheimer’s, caregivers can be grandparents thrust into the role of parenting again for a second time; parents of returning wounded warriors; relatives of adults with physical and developmental disabilities; and lifetime partners caring for each other.

And so for them, we say thank you. And we continue to offer our support by building on the foundation so many of you here today helped build ten years ago.

Eight months ago, we passed the Affordable Care Act, which improves our family caregiver support system.

Under the new law, Americans will be able to take advantage of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports – or CLASS – Program, a voluntary insurance program whose benefits can be used for supports like personal assistance, home modifications, specialized transportation, and assistive technology in order to maintain independent living.

We’re also extending the Money Follows the Person program in Medicaid with more than $2 billion in new funding. This program lets you take the funding you would have used for an institution and use it to receive care in your own community.

But one of the most important things we can do to support family caregivers is keep Medicare strong.

That starts by taking the sustainable growth rate off the list of things that physicians have to worry about. The single biggest step we can take to strengthen Medicare for beneficiaries is to make sure these disruptive cuts don’t take effect.

We’re also taking steps under the new law to strengthen Medicare, improve benefits, and cut waste and fraud.

As you know, earlier this year President Obama appointed Dr. Don Berwick to oversee Medicaid and Medicare. Don believes strongly in the important role that family caregivers play in delivering quality care.

And as Administrator, he has already begun working to improve benefits while lowering costs. Just yesterday, we opened the doors at a new Innovation Center at CMS which will help us find new ways to modernize our health care system to make it safe, affordable, patient-centered, reliable, and efficient. And that’s a good thing for caregivers.

Family caregivers can also play a big role in promoting prevention.

Both the Affordable Care Act and the Recovery Act made historic investments in prevention and managing chronic conditions. And family caregivers will be on the frontlines our efforts to put that investment to work.

Medicare beneficiaries will now get an annual wellness visit with their primary care doctor free of charge. That way they can create a plan to prevent illness or create a treatment plan that meets all of a beneficiary's health needs.

But we also know that for many seniors and disabled Americans, the one putting that plan into practice is likely to be a family caregiver – making sure the prescription is filled, the diet is maintained, and the follow-up appointments are kept, not to mention the countless other day-to-day tasks that rarely get mentioned, but make all the difference in the world.

In that spirit, I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone that we are now in open enrollment season. You can think of this as an opportunity for you and your loved ones to give yourselves a yearly coverage “check-up.” It is important to look closely at your plans and the plans of those you are caring for to consider your options and find what works best.

Ultimately, we are giving more Americans the tools take control of their own care.

And that includes caregivers themselves. For many of them and their families, the Affordable Care Act will also mean greater access to new preventive benefits and additional protections. And their children will be able to stay on their insurance until they turn 26. and are two great resources for caregivers, the people they care for, and the people who CARE about caregivers.

With great tools like the health finder and insurance finder, you can learn more about your new rights and benefits under the Affordable Care Act and make informed choices.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to speak today. I want to congratulate and thank our many partners in the room.

Assistant Secretary Takamura did not do it alone. It took many partners to come together to share their stories from the frontlines, make the case, and pass the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

Now, we need you more than ever -- to understand the complex and rapidly changing needs of family caregivers today and to make sure the program remains as vital as ever.

I look forward to working with you as we continue to do what we can to support the family caregivers who provide such invaluable support to the ones we love.

National Family Caregiver Support Program 10th Anniversary Celebration