Originally published by Fast Company on August 22, 2022
Melanie Shulman, 60, had envisioned a relatively carefree retirement. Over the last few years, however, her family was blindsided by a series of painful losses. Her father passed away unexpectedly in 2020 and, not long after, her mother began treatment for dementia. “I became her primary caregiver,” she says. “I was working 12 hours a day and dealing with [my] kids moving out of the house, and it was really, really tough.”
Within another three months, her father-in-law also died, and her mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After months of struggling to manage her caregiving responsibilities alongside her job, spending her evenings managing prescriptions and doctor’s appointments, Shulman made the hard decision to retire earlier than planned. “I couldn’t break myself into any more pieces,” she says. “It was time.”
Still, there was little Shulman could do to alleviate the financial burden of caring for two parents: Her mother alone required around-the-clock care that amounted to $4,000 a week out of pocket. A friend recommended that she look into Givers, a reimbursement platform that promised to provide some relief. “When taking care of the parents and following up with meds and doctors and everything else, the last thing I wanted to do was get on the computer, but I said let me give it a try,” she says. “It just spoke to me. I was really excited about the possibility of finding financial benefits that I didn’t even know existed.”
For Shulman and other family caregivers, the physical and emotional toll of looking after loved ones is so great that it can feel impossible to look into potential reimbursements or figure out what benefits they might be entitled to–even as medical expenses pile up. Givers, which is launching out of beta with a $3.5 million seed round, wants to help caregivers do exactly that, by sifting through a complex matrix of tax credits, state programs, health insurance benefits, and other potential sources of savings.
“There’s no good system for this right now,” says Max Mayblum, founder and CEO of Givers. “As we speak to people in our [caregiving] community, we find most don’t even know what’s available to them.”
The platform was partly inspired by Mayblum’s own frustrating experience trying to help his parents care for his grandparents and late aunt, which led him to realize there was no clear, authoritative source for information on reimbursements. Most caregivers relied on an ad hoc network of Facebook groups and blogs to hunt down this kind of intel (if they knew to look for it at all). This lack of infrastructure is an issue for the programs that seek to distribute funding, as well, according to Mayblum. A recent pilot program in Arizona, for example, set aside a million dollars to reimburse families that added ramps and grab bars to their homes—but only ended up distributing $130,000 because they couldn’t effectively get the message out. “This is a multi-100 billion-dollar funding pool for caregivers that is pretty much locked up or behind paperwork and bureaucracy,” Mayblum says.
With Givers, Mayblum is looking to bridge that gap. When caregivers sign up for the platform, Givers starts analyzing their profiles and expenses to determine what their eligibility might be for a number of potential reimbursements. That can include federal tax credits–like the Child and Dependent Care Credit–as well as tax breaks at the state level that specifically cater to caregivers. Then there are funds for veterans and savings that caregivers can accrue through Medicaid and Medicare. To streamline this process, the company has launched the Givers card, a Visa debit card that members can use to separate out their caregiving expenses.
Givers does take a cut of the savings it uncovers for members through a 40% fee, which is slightly less than what bill negotiation services typically charge to help consumers save money on monthly bills (though that’s hardly an exact comparison). But Givers does not charge any membership fees, which means the company only makes money if it finds savings for users–a nod to value-based healthcare, which ties payments to quality of care. “The model was all about incentive alignment, being kind of focused on providing the value,” Mayblum says. “And I’ve seen it trickle through into the values of the company and how hard we’re working to achieve those savings for our members. Because that’s the lifeblood of our company.”
Thousands of caregivers have already started using Givers in beta, saving an average of $4,000 per year. (Despite a “minimal” marketing budget, Mayblum says Givers is adding more than a thousand new members each month, largely through word-of-mouth.) But that’s just a fraction of the population that could stand to benefit from reducing the barrier to access: Even prior to the pandemic, at least 53 million Americans were taking on unpaid caregiving responsibilities, according to a 2020 report by the AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving.
Between an aging population and labor shortages across the long term care industry–not to mention the devastation of the pandemic–the burden on family caregivers will only continue to increase, with women disproportionately shouldering the impact. Part of Givers’s appeal to CRV partner Kristin Baker Spohn, the lead investor for Givers’s seed round, was that it isn’t an employer-based solution, which would benefit only a handful of caregivers. “I was searching for that broader, scalable distribution [and] durable business model that can drive better, faster support for caregivers,” she says.
Beyond reimbursements, Givers is positioning itself as a more comprehensive resource for caregivers by providing one-on-one coaching and a community forum. The company is also building out a marketplace that offers discounts on popular products for caregivers (and doubles as a source of affiliate revenue for the company). The marketplace currently carries 10 to 15 products–including Hero’s smart pill dispenser and Aloe Care Health’s fall detection wearable–but Mayblum hopes to eventually stock hundreds of items. “A number of the companies that are in our marketplace today are companies that I recommended to my own parents,” he says. “I’m excited to see how streamlining the research process of finding the best product for my own family can be beneficial to [other] caregivers.”
The prospect of finding savings through Givers was certainly the initial draw for Shulman. She’s currently on track to save at least $2,000, though that’s a small sum when juxtaposed with her overall expenses. (“Anything I can get my hands on that might offset some of the costs is helpful,” she points out.) But after spending some time on Givers, she’s excited about the access to counseling, and even the community, which feels more intimate than a large Facebook group. “You see that other people are kind of in the same situation,” she says. “Even though you don’t know them, you hear their stories, and you hear how they’re getting through it. And that’s helpful.”