Millions of Americans are informal, unpaid caregivers for loved ones. A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield Association report has quantified for one of the first times the impact of this work on their health. And the data is troubling, with caregivers showing higher rates of behavioral health and chronic conditions than non-caregivers. That’s why experts and advocates convened virtually on October 29, 2020 to discuss strategies for improving caregiver health.
The highlights: Caregivers-turned-entrepreneurs will play a major role in making caregiving easier. And health plans are not only acknowledging the critical role caregivers play in keeping their members healthy but finding new ways to support them.
Supporting caregivers now is urgent
Alexandra Drane, founder of Archangels, an organization that advocates for and researches caregivers, laid out why caregivers need support now. COVID-19 has made even more people caregivers. Finances have become difficult for some, who may have lost jobs. An increasing number of caregivers are millennials, suggesting that receiving support now could prevent worse outcomes in the future. And poor health disproportionately affects caregivers of color and of lower socioeconomic status. Connecting caregivers with resources now is critical to keep those gaps from widening and head off worsening health.
Caregivers who saw a need and filled it: two caregivers-turned-entrepreneurs
Lindsay Jurist-Rosner and Jessica Kim told the virtual audience about their own caregiving experiences, and what they wished they’d known or what support they wish they’d had during those times. They identified a need and parlayed their personal caregiving experiences into innovative, entrepreneurial ventures to help other families navigate similar challenges.
Jurist-Rosner developed Wellthy, an app that provides something akin to a virtual concierge for caregivers. Wellthy connects caregivers with a trained, trustworthy person, usually a social worker, who can take some of the logistical and administrative tasks off the caregiver’s plate, such as financial and legal support. Wellthy coordinators can also negotiate insurance bills, find specialty care or even find staff to run errands. The service also includes a central calendar and communications hub for family members.
Jessica Kim found that asking for help as a caregiver was one of the most difficult tasks. So she developed Ianacare, an app that allows caregivers to designate a support team. Caregivers can list tasks they need help with, such as giving a loved one a ride to a medical appointment, and members of the support team – family, friends, neighbors – can accept or decline. The app allows caregivers to ask for help without feeling like a burden.
Both Jurist-Rosner and Kim emphasized that employers have a big opportunity, beyond apps, to support caregivers. Employers see colleagues who are caregivers frequently and may be able to identify urgent needs or provide support before caregiving affects an employee’s ability to manage both responsibilities.
BCBS companies are supporting caregivers inside and outside of their organizations
For Peggy Maguire with Regence BlueCross BlueShield (Regence) and Anna Gosline from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBS Massachusetts), supporting caregivers is embedded in their job descriptions. Maguire told virtual conference attendees her organization has invested in palliative care resources for members and their caregivers, an essential kind of healthcare for people with serious or terminal illnesses. Palliative care providers not only help patients receive the care they want but work with their caregivers to implement care plans – and even attend to caregivers’ own emotional or social needs. At BCBS Massachusetts, Gosline says the health plan has made a tool called Tcare available to members. It’s an evidence-based program facilitated by trained BCBS Massachusetts professionals. They gather in-depth data about a caregiver’s needs and prescribe the right resources based on clinical evidence. The recommendations can be anything from family counseling to an exercise class or respite care for their loved one.
Regence and BCBS Massachusetts both have internal programs that encourage employees to identify themselves as caregivers and share their personal stories. Their company CEOs have openly discussed their personal experiences with caregiving, which may help reduce stigma around being a caregiver.
Speakers also encouraged more employers to package and communicate their existing benefits to caregivers, and to consider providing employees with paid caregiving leave.
Regence BlueCross BlueShield and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.