KUSA - Colorado caregivers spent an average of $7,400 in 2015 to provide support to seniors who need additional, in-home care.
That's according to a recent study from the Colorado Health Institute, which estimated that total expenses added up to a cumulative $3.7 billion in 2015.
9NEWS spoke to Jennifer Greenfield, assistant professor at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work as part of its special Senior Week coverage.
Greenfield studies on the intersection of health and wealth for caregivers. She'll join 9NEWS for the Thursday, 7 a.m. morning show.
Greenfield said for most caregivers, taking time off work isn't paid.
"So when they’re taking time to be a caregiver, they’re actually not bringing in the same level of income," Greenfield said.
Greenfield added that they're also more susceptible to injuries and often report having their own medical issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which culminates in additional expenses.
"Almost half of people who are caregivers report they themselves have chronic conditions -- [like] diabetes and high blood pressure," Greenfield said. "Caregiving is physically difficult; you’re often picking people up, helping them into a chair or into a tub. It’s easy to throw out your back, or develop some aches and pains as you’re doing it day-in and day-out."
Greenfield said one way to address the issue is by making family leave paid, rather than unpaid. Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees who work for covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a defined 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons.
Greenfield said she supports House Bill 18-1001, the Family Medical Leave Insurance Program (FAMLI). FAMLI, supported by Colorado State Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster) and Rep. Matt Gray (D-Broomfield), would "provide partial wage-replacement benefits to an eligible individual who takes leave from work to care for a new child or a family member with a serious health condition or who is unable to work due to the individual's own serious health condition."
"Having paid family leave means they can pay the bills while they’re caring for their loved ones," Greenfield said.
The Colorado House passed the bill during the 2018 legislative session, but the Colorado Senate killed the bill on a 3-2 vote.
Greenfield said she is hopeful the bill will be reintroduced in the 2019 session because it "now has bipartisan support."
"There are lot of businesses that see the value," she said. "Employers see that caregivers have to call in sick, and then they have to bring someone else in to do their jobs. ... Or they just drop out of the workforce and there’s a lot of turnover. So paid leave saves money on those turnover costs."
Large business groups have come out against the bill, saying it would cost additional money for them to adjust their human resources systems and that it offers no exemptions for companies that already offer paid and family medical leave, according to the Denver Business Journal.
Greenfield said another way to address the financial strain on caregivers might be through health care costs. She said she recently conducted research that shows financial strain in Colorado was lower for those who had access to Medicare.
"[Medicare] provides reliable health care that’s relatively affordable," she said. "So mimicking that experience for other caregivers is one way we can alleviate that financial strain."