Second lady Jill Biden, a doctor and health advocate, called Wednesday for increased support for caregivers at a Center for American Progress.

Second lady Jill Biden, a doctor and health advocate, called Wednesday for increased support for caregivers at a Center for American Progress.

WASHINGTON — Second lady Jill Biden, a doctor and health care advocate, said Wednesday that family members and friends who are taking on more responsibilities as caregivers as troops return home and the baby boom generation ages need more training and support.

Opening a conference at the Center for American Progress, Biden said more needs to done for the country’s more than 40 million caregivers, the majority of whom are women.

She highlighted federal efforts like the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, established in 2010 to provide additional support to the families of injured veterans. The program gives private caregivers a monthly need-based stipend, training and visits from a Department of Veterans Affairs clinician.

“Even as we wind down these wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan), there are many families caring for their loved ones with wounds, both seen and unseen,” Biden said.

Experts from several health care organizations spoke of the emotional and economic burdens placed on caregivers, who support more than 12 million people with long-term illnesses or disabilities — a number expected to more than double by 2050, according to a CAP report released Wednesday.

Many caregivers leave the workforce, which can result in an estimated $300,000 to $600,000 wages lost over the course of a lifetime, said Barbara Bedney, director of human services and public policy in Washington for the Jewish Federations of North America.

More workplace flexibility for caregivers would help, the CAP report noted. A bill, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, was introduced last year to ensure up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers with seriously ill family members and partially compensate wages for working caregivers or those who take time off work for personal medical issues.

Bedney also noted that caregivers need better training because they don’t have the knowledge to deal with long-term medical conditions.

“People are just not prepared for when this happens,” she said. “They’re not getting the training for it… and they’re worried they’re not doing it right.”

The CAP report identified policies related to caregivers as being “woefully out of date,” which will be exacerbated by a declining number of potential caregivers combined with rising health care costs. Although Congress repealed the section of the Affordable Care Act that would have created a federal alternative to private chronic care insurance plans, the law did bolster funding for new long-term care models and community-based programs.

Current programs for the elderly don’t focus enough on preventive measures, said Suzanne Mintz, founder of Family Caregiver Advocacy and former CEO of the National Family Caregivers Association.

“Medicare will pay to fix your broken hip, but they won’t provide money toward preventing you from falling,” she said.

In providing more training to caregivers, special attention should be given to the unique needs of minority communities, said Henry Pacheco, director of medicine and public health for the National Hispanic Council on Aging.

Because the American health system is “oriented in taking care of the patient and discharging quickly,” Pacheco said, care instructions may not be communicated well to family members, especially if there are language issues.

“They don’t know the system,” he said. “They don’t understand the system.”