PORTLAND, Ore. – Unpaid caregivers are experiencing significant health declines, due to the stress and pressure of caring for a spouse or child, according to a new study of medical claims by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA).

The report analyzed a data sample of caregivers and found they had, on average, 26% poorer health as compared to a benchmark population. The study’s review of health claims* identified at least 6.7 million commercially-insured Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) members with a spouse or child in need of caregiver support to create the sample. Across Regence’s four-state footprint, the percent of individuals in need of caregiving was slightly below the 22% national average, representing 18% of individuals in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and 16% of Utahns.

The report, titled “The Impact of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health," represents the first time in the health care industry that claims data has been used to study the relationship between health status and caregiving.

“Caregivers are under an immense amount of stress right now, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Dr. Drew Oliveira, senior executive medical director at Regence. “If left unchecked, prolonged stress and anxiety can contribute to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. This report is a wakeup call for caregivers to take proactive, meaningful action to manage stress before it compounds into a more serious health event.”

Compared to the benchmark population, caregivers in the Millennial age group – those born between 1981 and 1996 – are the most likely generation to experience additional 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 visits

ARCHANGELS study finds caregivers are turning to negative coping mechanisms

To better understand these alarming health trends, BCBSA collaborated with ARCHANGELS, an independent national movement and platform that is reframing how caregivers are seen, honored and supported using a combination of data and stories. 

According to an ARCHANGELS study conducted early in the pandemic, caregivers were turning to a variety of negative coping mechanisms, including:

  • Alcohol (14%)
  • Medication (18%)
  • Food (50%)

“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. “The first and most important step we all need to take is to check in on ourselves and our loved ones.”

Regence supports caregivers and those they care for

Regence and its corporate parent are committed to recognizing, understanding and supporting caregivers by changing perceptions, influencing policy change and creating solutions that address the needs of today’s caregivers.

Regence’s Personalized Care Support program helps members and their caregivers navigate the challenges that come with serious illness, by offering one-on-one support at no extra cost. The program’s in-house clinicians and social workers provide care coordination, member advocacy, social support, connections to community resources and advance care planning. Offering one of the most comprehensive palliative care benefits in the industry, the program’s member-centric approach helps those living with serious illness, and their caregivers, live as well as possible for as long as possible. The plan’s benefit also provides reimbursement for advance care planning and includes additional coverage for home health visits and psycho-social support services, such as family counseling.

In light of additional stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Regence has also partnered with local nonprofits to provide caregivers and other vulnerable populations with technology to keep them connected and address the negative impacts of isolation.

*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.

All company names and brands are the property of their respective owners and used for identification purposes only and are in no way associated or affiliated with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Use of these names and brands does not imply endorsement.

About Regence 
Regence serves 3.1 million members through its Regence health plans in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Each Regence health plan is a nonprofit independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Regence is part of a family of companies dedicated to transforming health care by delivering innovative products and services that change the way consumers nationwide experience health care. For more information, please visit regence.com