Caregivers need care, too

Published October 9, 2020

Author: Maureen Sullivan

Across the country today, millions of Americans will wake up for another day of working from home. Between meetings and emails, many will take on the role of both science teacher and math tutor for their children, who are learning online. Millions, too, will be on call as a family caregiver—providing around-the-clock care for chronically ill children, making sure their spouses have taken their medication, or cooking meals for their parents who no longer can. Over the weekend, they will run errands and set up virtual care services for these loved ones who are unable to manage for themselves. All the while, they will take extra precautions to avoid the coronavirus, as it poses too great a risk to those they care for. This is caregiving in 2020.

The Health Impact of Caregiving

The most recent Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America Report®, The Impact of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health, examines the health experience of caregivers. Using our market-leading claims database representing 1 in 3 Americans, this report marks the first time claims data has been used to measure caregiver health.

What we found:

  • There are at least 6.7 million Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) members acting as caregivers for their spouse or child(ren).
  • Compared to a benchmark population, caregivers in our sample saw a 26% greater impact of health conditions that could lower their overall health, as measured by the BCBS Health IndexSM.
  • The health impacts of caregiving are more pronounced among millennials and caregivers who live in communities with a majority Black or Hispanic population.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has increased the demand for and intensity of caregiving, as well as self-reported stress, isolation and loneliness among caregivers.

In short, family caregiving is an immense commitment of time and emotional work that can feel overwhelming. It is a role that one does not get a break from, and it is deeply personal. Today, the strain of COVID-19 is creating a greater need for caregivers and placing extreme pressure on those who take on this role. This growing population needs support to ensure they’re receiving the care they need and staying healthy when so much of their time is spent taking care of others.

Caregivers Need Support

I know firsthand how hard it is to be a caregiver—not just in finding the time in an already busy schedule, but in watching your loved one transform before your eyes. My mom passed away from dementia in 2015. My sister and I were both caring for her from our respective homes in Illinois and Rhode Island. I was working and taking care of my two daughters on top being a part-time caregiver. It was an isolating experience, with many tough days.

The informal nature of caregiving means that we often find ourselves placed into this position rather than choosing it. We may not even recognize that we need support, let alone know what support should look like. Historically, this has been the case. Caregiver support was virtually nonexistent until recently.

The good news is that, having borne witness to many cultural shifts in healthcare, I can confidently say we are beginning to see a tide change; and I am proud to be part of the BCBS system, which is leading much of this critical work.

Improving the Caregiver Experience

BCBS companies are committed to addressing the unique challenges caregivers face and finding scalable solutions to meet their needs. As a system, we are focused on moving the ball forward for this long-overlooked workforce.

  • Florida Blue   has been a pioneer of caregiver support for several years. The company stations community specialists in their retail centers across the state to help identify caregivers who walk through the doors, regardless of their insurance status. From there, the specialists connect them to resources in their community and beyond. Last year alone, they supported nearly 17,000 caregivers. Florida Blue   is also exploring how new technology like virtual reality and artificial intelligence can be applied to caregivers' needs and scaled across the country. Read more here.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is testing a solution to help caregivers get the right kind of support without adding yet another item to their to-do list. The evidence-based approach evaluates caregivers' responsibilities, health, and social and emotional needs to match them with just two or three resources that will make the biggest improvements. The recommendations can be anything from marriage or family counseling to an exercise class—solutions that address their health and help prevent burnout. Read more here.
  • Regence Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, serving Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah, are examining the caregiver experience in palliative care cases, which are acutely difficult and often require high commitments of time and emotional stress. By researching who caregivers in their service area are, what they need and the challenges they face, Regence companies have long understood the importance of the relationship between the patient and the caregiver to the health of both and centered their palliative care program around both patient and caregiver for improved outcomes. Read more here.

Join the Conversation

If you are a caregiver, an employer, a healthcare provider or simply are interested in what the future of caregiving will look like, I invite you to join the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, BCBS companies and industry experts in a Health of America virtual forum on October 28-29. We will explore actionable solutions to close the caregiver health gap during the pandemic and beyond. Register here.

Florida Blue    Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Regence Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are independent licensees of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans.