Leveraging Their Active Role in Medication Adherence Could Save $100 Billion in Medicare Costs Annually

San Mateo, CA, March 29, 2012 – The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older — with 10,000 or more baby boomers now turning 65 every day. The Institute of Medicine reports that more than three-quarters of adults over age 65 suffer from at least one chronic medical condition requiring ongoing care and management, and with the growing number of older Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expecting significant increases to our nation’s healthcare and long-term care costs. This includes greater demands on the public health system and government-sponsored health insurance programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

As the nation adjusts to its population shift and prepares for a potential health system crisis, the results from recent Caring.com research show that boomer caregivers are crucial allies in managing senior health and controlling healthcare costs. Specifically, the survey found that:

  • Seventy-three percent of boomer caregivers are attending all or nearly all of the doctor appointments for a senior loved one — with even higher rates of attendance among those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia (76 percent).
  • Eighty-three percent are conducting online research about a loved one’s health condition and possible treatments before or after a medical appointment, with 57 percent referring to information learned online during the appointment.
  • For nearly two-thirds of boomer caregivers, a loved one needs a great deal of help managing medications and treatments, with an additional 28 percent reporting that their loved one needs some help with medication and treatment tasks.

These findings coincide with what board-certified geriatrician and Caring.com senior medical editor Dr. Leslie Kernisan has seen in her Berkeley, California practice. “I’ve found that often the caregiver seems more concerned about the health problems than the patient is . . . the caregiver is actually prodding the patient to tell me something to get a problem addressed,” she says in the video, Why Family Caregivers Matter: A Doctor’s View. “Nowadays in medicine, we really expect patients to do a lot for themselves when it comes to chronic care, but that can be really hard when people get older and sicker, unless they have a caregiver involved.”

Medication and treatment adherence — “following the doctor’s orders” — can greatly reduce total healthcare use and costs. For instance, according to the New England Healthcare Institute , the estimated annual costs of patients in the U.S. not taking their medications as prescribed approaches $290 billion. Another research study published on HealthAffairs.org found that patients who take medications as doctors direct can save the healthcare system as much as $7,800 per patient annually. With more than 40 million older Americans currently enrolled in Medicare, there’s potential for caregivers’ active role in medication management to save the government as much as $100 billion annually.

Caring.com’s survey found that, among boomer caregivers actively assisting seniors with medications, 57 percent are filling the initial prescriptions; 61 percent are handling prescription refills; 55 percent are tracking medications to ensure that doses aren’t missed; 50 percent are giving pills, injections, or treatments; 50 percent are buying over-the-counter medications and personal health products for a senior; and only 30 percent are helping to pay for the prescribed medications.

“It isn’t only pharmaceutical companies who should take heed of our research findings. Healthcare payers — whether in the public or private sector — should likewise be actively engaging with boomer caregivers,” says Andy Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Caring.com. “With physicians on average now spending less than 20 minutes with each patient per visit, and millions of seniors unable or unwilling to properly manage their own health, boomer caregivers play a vital role in driving the best senior healthcare outcomes.”

Caring.com conducted its online survey of 643 boomer caregivers in September-October 2011. Eighty percent of respondents were caring for loved ones older than 70; with 40 percent caring for a senior aged 80-89, and 11 percent caring for a senior aged 90 or older. A third of respondents were caring for a parent, and 26 percent were caring for a spouse.

More information about the survey, as well as findings from prior Caring.com research — such as the financial and emotional costs of caregiving — are available upon request.