CHICAGO – New findings from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s (BCBSA) industry-first study on the health of caregivers finds that caregivers had 26% poorer health, as measured by the BCBS Health Index, compared to the benchmark population due to the stress and pressure of the caregiver role. The findings come from a new BCBSA report, “The Impact of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health," part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America Report® series, which analyzed a data sample of caregivers based on BCBS claims data. The report represents the first time in the health care industry that claims data has been used to study the relationship between health status and caregiving.
The BCBSA study sample identified at least 6.7 million commercially insured BCBS members who have a spouse or child in need of caregiver support. To better understand the current state of caregivers and learn more about how to support their better health, BCBSA partnered with ARCHANGELS, a national movement and platform that is reframing how caregivers are seen, honored and supported using a combination of data and stories.
A recent survey from ARCHANGELS found that COVID-19 has increased demand for unpaid caregivers, with 61% of Americans reporting that they are now taking care of or looking out for a friend, neighbor or family member due to the pandemic. Fifty-five percent of current caregivers would not have identified themselves as such before the pandemic. The survey also found that a greater number of Black (57%) and Hispanic (64%) caregivers are providing care for loved ones in their home than their white (37%) counterparts.
To help support caregivers, BCBS companies also build and fund solutions that address caregivers’ distinct needs, including education, transportation, care coordination and care management. Examples include:
- Stationing community specialists in health care centers to identify caregivers who walk through the doors; once identified, these caregivers are connected to helpful resources in their community and beyond.
- Offering healthy meal delivery, prescription delivery, virtual companionship to address social isolation and loneliness, and emergency response support so caregivers can remotely monitor the people they’re caring for.
- Partnering with digital health companies to coach caregivers and equip them with the skills to detect the signs and symptoms of emerging health issues in loved ones suffering from cognitive impairment diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Incorporating caregiver support into their palliative care programs, which provides specialized medical care to manage symptoms and reduce stress, improving the quality of life for both the patient and the caregiver.
Compared to the benchmark population, caregivers in the Millennial age group are more likely to experience stress-related conditions. Additionally, the health impacts associated with caregiving seem to be more pronounced for this group compared to the benchmark population, with the following conditions being more prevalent:
- 82% increase in hypertension
- 60% increase in anxiety
- 64% increase in major depression
- 74% increase in obesity
- 59% higher rate of hospitalization; 33% higher rate of ER visit
The added stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic along with balancing current and new work-life responsibilities has had a particular impact on unpaid caregivers. A national survey conducted by BCBSA found that 1 in 4 unpaid caregivers are feeling more stress trying to balance work and family due to COVID-19. According to ARCHANGELS, early in the pandemic, caregivers were turning to a variety of negative coping mechanisms, including:
- Alcohol (14%)
- Medication (18%)
- Food (50%)
“Caregivers continue to play a vital, often unheralded, role in helping ensure the health of our members, our communities, and our nation as a whole,” said Vincent Nelson, Chief Medical Officer at BCBSA. “This new data only reinforces our shared commitment to ensuring that these caregivers receive the resources, initiatives and support they need to get and stay healthy.”
“Wherever you are right now, look to your left, look to your right. One of you is a caregiver. Being a caregiver is one of the most important jobs many of us will ever do. It’s also one of the hardest – with profound physical and mental health impacts,” said Alexandra Drane, Co-founder and CEO at ARCHANGELS. “So, the first and most important step we all need to take, is to check in on ourselves and our loved ones. Next, we need to continue the discussion on how we can provide caregivers with the resources, support and infrastructure they need to stay healthy, starting with The Health of America Virtual Forum coming up in October.”
In an effort to continue to address and learn more about the emerging needs of caregivers in their communities, BCBSA will host a two-day virtual forum on caregivers and millennial health on October 28 and 29.
This is the 33rd study of the Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America Report® series, which examined data from commercially-insured members in the BCBS claims database, alongside data and support from ARCHANGELS, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) and U.S. Census data.
Caregivers looking for additional support can reach out to their local BCBS company to find out what programs and resources are available in their community. For more information, readers can also visit https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america.