Court to weigh wage pro­tec­tions for home-care work­ers

Modern Healthcare - - THE WEEEK AHEAD - —Lisa Schencker

The home-care in­dus­try and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will face off Thurs­day in a fed­eral ap­peals court in Wash­ing­ton in a case with ma­jor fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions for the in­dus­try and its low-wage work­ers.

The case cen­ters on whether a U.S. La­bor Depart­ment can re­quire home­care providers to pay min­i­mum wages and over­time to their work­ers. Be­fore the rule, home-care work­ers of­fer­ing “fel­low­ship, care and pro­tec­tion” to the el­derly and dis­abled had been legally ex­empt from min­i­mum wage and over­time pay pro­tec­tions. The new rule nar­rowed the def­i­ni­tion of so­called com­pan­ion­ship ser­vices and barred third-party em­ploy­ers such as home-care com­pa­nies from tak­ing ad­van­tage of the wage ex­emp­tions.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Home Care & Hospice and other in­dus­try groups sued in June to block the rule, ar­gu­ing it would re­duce ac­cess to qual­ity, af­ford­able care. But the La­bor Depart­ment and the Para­pro­fes­sional Health­care In­sti­tute, a group rep­re­sent­ing home-care work­ers, said work­ers de­serve higher wages and wage pro­tec­tions.

A U.S. Dis­trict Court judge ruled against the gov­ern­ment, say­ing Congress in­tended the wage ex­emp­tions to keep home care af­ford­able and only Congress could change that. The gov­ern­ment ap­pealed to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit.

The gov­ern­ment ar­gues the rule would lead to bet­ter-qual­i­fied home­care work­ers, less turnover and bet­ter care. In­dus­try groups say it would lead to in­creased in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of el­derly and dis­abled peo­ple.

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