Caregiver's Home Companion Caring for someone who has trouble hearing the phone?

Posted February 12, 2010

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Health Coverage Available for Unemployed Caregivers


I live in Berkley, Massachusetts, and was wondering if you know of any programs here in Massachusetts that may help my 30-year-old niece. She is presently caring 24/7 for our 94-year-old aunt in our aunt's home here in Berkley. She especially needs some form of health care coverage, as she is not able to seek employment outside her fulltime caregiving role.

Our aunt was only allowed to leave a nursing home, if there was someone to be with her at all times. She has Alzheimer’s disease. My niece, who was recently laid off and is ineligible for unemployment benefits because hers was a seasonal job, was kind enough to volunteer to do this. However, she now finds herself with no income and no health care coverage. We'd appreciate any information you could give us. Thank you.

Annmarie H., Berkley, Massachusetts

A. Here is some information and a short listing of resources, which I hope will prove helpful:

Obtaining financial assistance or insurance for an unemployed family caregiver may not be impossible, but it will require a fair amount of detective work. While there are many programs designed to help support family caregivers in caring for a loved one, the eligibility criteria and benefits of each program are often difficult to understand.

The good news is that Massachusetts does offer health insurance for low income or unemployed workers. There are a variety of plans with varying qualifying criteria. To learn more about health insurance options, contact MASS HEALTH at 1-800-841-2900.

There is also a program known as the Caregiver Homes in Massachusetts which both offers compensation to qualified family caregivers and services to elders. To be eligible for this program, family caregivers must be providing services to an individual who would otherwise require nursing home care. The ability of the family member to provide home care safely and reliably is also a factor in determining eligibility.To learn more, phone Caregiver Homes at 1-866-797-2333. This program offers up to $18,000 annually to family caregivers. The program also requires some monitoring and training of family caregivers.

Another option is the Mass Home Care Program, which does not offer pay for caregivers but which does provide a host of services including transportation, personal care assistance and adult day health services among others for seniors age 60 and older who have a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. While there is no compensation built into this program for family caregivers, the program does offer much needed support and respite care. Information can be obtained from PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) at 1-800-408-1253.

To help minimize frustration, and to be sure that your niece finds the most appropriate level of help, I'd suggest that your niece contact the local Council on Aging / Senior Center in the community where she is living. The Council on Aging has outreach workers or social workers who know the details of many programs which can be of benefit to either elders or family caregivers. Council on Aging programs also often support groups which can be invaluable to family caregivers as the groups provide the opportunity to learn what services other family caregivers are finding.

The Council of Aging is also an excellent place to learn more about the regional Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which is another excellent "one-stop" resource for information and referral. Many AAA centers offer in-home consultations, as well as services ranging from respite to meals to advocacy.

Caregiving can be all-consuming, and searching out information can be exhausting. Thank you for taking the time to write, as I'm sure there is some type of help which can be of benefit to both your niece and your aunt.

This answer is provided by Paula S. McCarron, a writer with more than 20 years of experience in health care, including nursing homes and hospice. Her writing includes extensive reporting on caregiver compensation issues. She lives in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and can be reached at

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