We Americans may be getting an average of more than $1,000 in caregiving value per year from informal caregivers who, in many cases, may be on the verge of needing care themselves.
The Evercare unit of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) found in 2009 that informal caregivers are providing about $375 billion in long-term care (LTC) per year.
That care is "free" for the United States, but, of course, comes out of the hide of the caregivers.
Now Care Improvement Plus, a Medicare plan affiliate of Unitedhealth, and the National Family Caregivers Association have published new survey data on the chunks of caregiver hide on which we've been feasting.
The survey sponsors polled 300 caregivers who are caring for adults enrolled in a Care Improvement Plus Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan program that serves people in Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas.
In other words: The people the caregivers care for are pretty sick, even by Medicare standards.
The survey sponsors found that 75 percent of the caregivers polled have annual incomes under $25,000; that 66 percent of the caregivers have been caring for their loved ones with special needs for five years or more; that these caregivers have an average of 1.8 chronic conditions each; and that 77 percent of the caregivers are struggling to make their own ends meet.
I think these statistics illustrate why, let's face it, the top executives at publicly traded health insurers aren't saying much about the commercial health insurance market these days, or much at all, except, maybe, "Adios!", about the commercial long-term care insurance (LTCI) market, during their quarterly earnings calls.
The top executives are fond of providing health coverage for the quality-minded large and small employers that will meekly accept what the insurers consider to be "disciplined" pricing and plan design changes.
The executives might even be a little nostalgic for the days when they dreamed about providing pure private long-term care insurance (LTCI) for the people who seemed to be able to afford it.
But the executives seem to have decided that the percentage of the population that can qualify for truly private LTCI and afford to pay for it is a niche population.
Either the United States figures out what, realistically, we can do about the future (and not-so-far-in-the-future) LTC needs of folks like those cash-strapped caregivers, or those folks will soon be living on a sidewalk near you.
Years ago, many readers of National Underwriter -- one of the print publications that powers the LifeHealthPro.com website -- served a similarly threadbare population through the sale of small "industrial life insurance" policies.
Since then, the focus of the agents who LifeHealthPro.com and its affiliated publications has shifted more to affluent customers who use sidewalks for the purposes of shopping, and walking to nice restaurants, not sleeping.
But it might be that, if brokers and agents want to stay in the private LTC planning game, they'll have to come up with a 21st century, LTC equivalent of industrial life insurance -- industrial LTC insurance? small-face-value LTC coverage? -- for consumers who have to focus more on avoiding bunking on park benches than on leaving a legacy for their heirs.