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October 01, 2020

DES MOINES, IA – A new Blue Cross® Blue Shield® Association (BCBSA) report is highlighting the health implications of caregiving, including the impact COVID-19 is having on caregivers. The report, "The Impact of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health External Site," found caregivers had a 26 percent greater chance of having a physical or behavioral health condition that could lower their overall health due to the stress and pressure of a caregiver role. In Iowa, 20 percent of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield's members rely on caregiver support as compared to 22 percent nationally.

"Caregivers have always played a crucial role in providing essential care for family members and loved ones," said Laura Jackson, Wellmark's chief health officer. "COVID-19 has magnified the importance of caregivers and placed an increased focus on the importance of taking time to check in on those caregivers and lend additional support — emotional and physical — whenever possible."

The report included commercially insured BCBS members who have a spouse or child in need of caregiver support. The industry-first study represents the first-time claims data has been used to link the relationship between health status and caregiving.

COVID-19's impact on caregiving

55% of current caregivers would not have identified as caregivers before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 recent survey from ARCHANGELS, an organization that has launched a national movement to recognize and honor caregivers, found COVID-19 has increased demand for unpaid caregivers. Due to the pandemic, 61 percent of Americans reported 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.

A national survey conducted by BCBSA also found one in four unpaid caregivers are feeling more stretched trying to balance work and family due to COVID-19. This has led to greater stress, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and reliance on negative coping mechanisms like alcohol, medication, and food.

Health impact of caregiving is greater for Millennials

A 2019 BCBSA Health of Millennials report External Site found millennials are less healthy than previous generations were at the same age. A recent BCBSA national survey confirmed millennial caregivers were more likely to have stress-related conditions than caregivers from older generations. Millennial caretakers were 82 percent more likely to have hypertension, 60 percent more likely to have anxiety and 64 percent more likely to have major depression compared to non-caretakers. Iowa millennial caregivers are trending at or above those numbers:

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  • 108% increase in hypertension
  • 81% increase in obesity
  • 68% increase in tobacco use disorders
  • 65% increase in anxiety
  • 59% increase in depression

This generation was also more likely to be obese and have higher rates of emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Iowa millennials are trending lower in these categories with a 24 percent increase in emergency room visits compared to 33 percent nationally and a 7 percent increase in hospitalizations compared to the 59 percent national increase trend.

Resources for caregivers

Although caregiving can lead to poorer health, caregivers have higher rates of preventive care; over half of identified caregivers had wellness visits in 2018, and more than a third had at least one cancer screening.

"This data is encouraging because caregivers who pay attention to their own physical and emotional health are better equipped to provide support for the ones who rely on their care," said Jackson. "It is also important for caregivers to consider virtual visits for easy-to-treat conditions and to use free services, like Wellmark's BeWell 24/7SM, to help with coordinating care and appointments and getting answers for common health-related questions."

BeWell 24/7 is a service available exclusively to Wellmark members to get real help from real people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Wellmark members who call Eight, Four, Four, Eight, Four, Be Well, are connected with a professional who can help locate health care providers and facilities, provide an evaluation based on you or the person you are caring for, provide recommendations for where to go for care, coordinate health care appointments for in-home health help, make arrangements for community-based services and more.

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. For more information, visit External Site.