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Family Caregivers: Unsung Heroes of Healthcare in America

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November 6, 2014

November 6, 2014

family caregiving in AmericaAbout half of all adults in the U.S. —117 million people— have one or more chronic health conditions, and one in four adults is struggling daily with two or more chronic conditions. Though biomedical innovation has enabled many with chronic illness to live longer and better lives, those with more debilitating conditions often rely heavily on family members and other loved ones to provide daily care and support. All year, but particularly during National Caregiver Month, we applaud the millions of family caregivers for their dedication and recognize the critically important roles they play in healthcare in America. According to the Caregiver Action Network, two in five adults in the U.S. are caring for a sick or disabled loved one, and these caregivers provide $450 billion worth of unpaid care each year.

With 84 percent of U.S. healthcare dollars going towards treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, it is important to understand that these conditions not only affect the individual living with disease but his or her caregiver(s), as well. And as our healthcare system increasingly evolves to relying on outpatient care and with an aging population, our dependence on family caregivers will grow even greater.

There is a critical need to prioritize caregiver awareness of and education on evolving models of care and treatment advances, the ever changing roles for patients, caregivers, payors and employers, and the policy implications raised by these changes. These are all very real issues needing very immediate attention. Often, healthcare policy is not keeping pace with the needs of caregivers. For example, as we noted in our recent white paper, “Facilitating Full Employment Opportunity for Employees with Cancer: A Call to Action” the law currently limits who qualifies as a caregiver eligible to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

More needs to be done to recognize the substantial burden of chronic diseases that extends beyond the individual affected and do more to support the millions of family caregivers dedicated to caring for loved ones each day. During National Caregiver Month, let’s each take the time to thank the unsung heroes of healthcare – and our families – the caregiver.

With another Election Day behind us, let’s also take the time to encourage policymakers to do more to relieve burden of chronic diseases on patients, families, communities, and the nation as a whole.

We are all touched in some way by costly and deadly chronic conditions: don’t we owe it to these patients AND their caregivers to do better? 

family caregivers / shutterstock

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