Matt Marek

The United States is in the clutches of a caregiver crisis. Caregivers as a whole are underserved, overlooked and undersupported. That issue can lead to poor health outcomes for those they are caring for and higher costs for the healthcare system, particularly payers.

Caregiving is one of the hardest, most important jobs in the world. These are wives and husbands, daughters and sons, neighbors next door and around the corner, who take care of a loved one at home who is either elderly or living with a disability or chronic health condition such as dementia.

Nearly one third of the US population either gives or receives family care at home. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 53 million Americans currently serve as caregivers. A 2022 statement from the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said, “Many of the more than 150 million people who receive healthcare coverage through Medicare, Medicaid and the Health Insurance Marketplaces rely on trusted friends and family for care.”

Yet many if not most caregivers are dealing with the unknown. I’ve never met a caregiver who was fully prepared, either physically or mentally, to be a caregiver without the benefit of some kind of professional assistance. We have too many people in need of care and a shortage of caregiver services and solutions.

All available evidence strongly suggests this national emergency will only get worse unless we take drastic action sooner rather than later. The good news is that strategies for coping with this crisis are at our fingertips.

In the context of this complex caregiver landscape and the issues confronting our healthcare ecosystem, we sought to demonstrate how caregiver support can be a potential solution. Our company recently announced an analysis of the impact of its program on outcomes that improve quality and lower the cost of care. Our rationale for this third-party analysis was simple: shine a spotlight on a supported family caregiver as a driver of positive outcomes. More specifically, we set out to deliver data for concerned policymakers that demonstrate the value, clinical and financial, of family caregiver programs as approaches that support care in the home.

The research, conducted by the leading healthcare research and advisory firm ATI Advisory, proved amply revealing. Individuals served by our program, compared to similar dual-eligible Medicare beneficiaries, experience a 21% lower probability of an emergency department visit in the course of a year. We estimate this metric translates into a savings of $243 for each individual on service with us per year. Equally valuable, our programs also helped reduce falls.

By coaching caregivers, we support them to keep care safely at home and out of the nursing home through these improved outcomes. Individuals remain on our programs for an average of 37 months. We estimate that, compared to nursing home care, our program saves approximately $60,000 a year per person served.

HHS reinforces this finding. Its own research demonstrates that family caregiving is more economical than paid services such as skilled nursing or home health aides. HHS estimates that replacing familial support with paid services would cost $470 billion a year.

The lessons we’ve learned from our caregiving approach over the last 20 years are readily applicable to the nation at large. For starters, caregivers should be educated about the basics of caregiving to build not only knowledge, but also confidence. They should receive the guidance essential to advocate for themselves and their family member or friend.

Each caregiver should be matched with a coach to co-create a care plan customized to the loved one’s unique needs and circumstances. Every caregiver should have ready access to an expert care team equipped to meet their needs and available either in-person or virtually for coaching and guidance along the caregiving journey.

By this approach, family caregivers receive wraparound support to promote care that is delivered safely and effectively at home. Only then can caregivers truly feel adequately prepared to intervene to identify changes, prevent falls and avoid negative outcomes that put ongoing community placement at risk. All in all, caregivers must be empowered with the tools to see to it that loved ones can remain in their homes and communities – the places where they most want to be.

We have to do more than we’re doing now. We have to build a better ecosystem. We have to strengthen the connections between family caregivers with the right healthcare professionals.

If we all partner together toward these ends—with families, providers and payors united in this cause—I believe we can and will.

Matt Marek is president and CEO of Careforth. He previously served as president and CEO of Further. He also held the role of chief marketing officer and chief sales officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.