BATON ROUGE, La. – Unpaid caregivers in Louisiana have much higher rates of several stress-related chronic illnesses than people in the benchmark population. Those are just some of the findings of a new study on the health of caregivers from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). The study also found that American caregivers had 26% poorer health overall—perhaps due to the anxiety and pressure of the caregiver role.
The study found that in Louisiana, 27% of the population needed caregiving in the study period of 2018, compared to the national average of 22%. Top parishes for residents in need of care were St. Helena at 44% and East Carroll at 42%. Most of the parishes comprising greater Baton Rouge fell in the 26-27% range, while Orleans Parish tied Ascension and Lafayette parishes at the lowest percentage (24%).
The findings come from a new BCBSA report, “The Impact of Caregiving on Mental and Physical Health," part of BCBSA’s The Health of America Report® series. The study analyzed a data sample of caregivers based on BCBS claims data.
The report represents the first time in the healthcare 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.
“I’m not that surprised that the number of people needing care in Louisiana is higher than the number nationwide,” said Dr. Lawrence Simon, lead medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. “Our aging population and the increasing number of people with long-term, serious illnesses, like diabetes, are creating a greater demand for caregiving.”
To better understand the current state of caregivers and learn more about how to support their better health, 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.
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 homes than their white (37%) counterparts.
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.
In Louisiana, the study found the following conditions to be more prevalent among caregivers overall than the benchmark population:
In caregivers in the Millennial age group (23-37), the same conditions showed an even higher leap in prevalence:
“The elevated prevalence of conditions like obesity and hypertension among caregivers is a major concern for healthcare in Louisiana,” said Simon. “These conditions are killers on their own, but they also increase the risk of getting COVID-19 and make it much harder to fight off the virus.”
He added that the burden of caregiving and its associated health issues on Millennial-age caregivers could point to an even more worrisome situation in 25 years, as these Louisianians begin to age.
There was a glimmer of good news in the Louisiana numbers. The study showed Louisiana caregivers overall had a 4% lower rate of ER visits than the benchmark population and no difference in the number of hospitalizations. Millennial caregivers, though, had 5% more ER visits and 34% more hospitalizations.
Caregivers in Louisiana also had 26% more wellness visits and 36% more cancer screenings than the benchmark group. Millennial caregivers had 23% more wellness visits and 21% more cancer screenings.
“It’s very good news that caregivers in Louisiana are getting the message about how important their wellness visits and their routine cancer screenings are,” Simon said. “Being a caregiver is an extremely tough job with profound physical and mental health impacts, so the first and most important step caregivers in Louisiana need to take is to check in on themselves.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana members who are also caregivers can find support through several different no-cost programs.
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Blue Cross launched its Just Five program for members. Just Five is an innovative online learning experience for anyone affected by addiction—another issue that caregivers are confronting. According to the ARCHANGELS survey, some caregivers are turning to a variety of negative coping mechanisms to help them deal with the stress and pressure they face. The study shows that 14% of unpaid caregivers cope with alcohol, 18% cope with medication and 50% cope with food. To access Just Five, employees can log in to their account at bcbsla.com and click the Addiction Resources button on the right side of their account page.
“Wherever you are right now, look to your left, look to your right. One of you is a caregiver,” said Alexandra Drane, co-founder and CEO at ARCHANGELS. “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.”
To continue addressing and learning more about the emerging needs of caregivers in their communities, BCBSA will host a two-day virtual forum on Oct. 28 (Millennial health) and Oct. 29 (caregiver health). Members of the media and the healthcare community may contact Blue Cross at Strategic.Communications@bcbsla.com for more information on the virtual forum.
The study on caregiver health is the 33rd study of the Blue Cross and 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 at the University of Chicago, the CDC and the Center to Advance Palliative Care, as well as U.S. Census data.
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About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to our mission to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. Founded in New Orleans in 1934, we are a tax-paying nonprofit health insurer with offices in every major region to serve our customers. We were recognized in 2019 and 2020 as an honoree of The Civic 50, named by Points of Light as one of the 50 most community-minded companies in the United States.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. We are a private mutual company, owned by our policyholders, with an independent Louisiana Board of Directors and no shareholders. We invite all Louisianians to visit our website at www.bcbsla.com or talk to us on social media.