Background: It is unclear how formal long-term care (LTC) availability affects formal /informal caregiving patterns and caregiver health. We tested the impact of reduced formal LTC availability on formal LTC service use, intensity of informal caregiving, and caregiver health. Methods: Using a representative, repeated cross-sectional sample of Japanese caregivers providing care to co-resident family members from 2001 to 2016, we applied a difference-in-differences approach by observing caregivers before and after the major reform of the public Japanese LTC insurance (LTCI) in 2006. The reform reduced coverage benefits for non-institutionalized older persons with low care needs, but not for those with high care needs. We analyzed 12,764 caregivers aged ≥30 years (mean age 64.3 ± 11.8 years, 73.5% women) and measured indicators of formal LTC use, hours of informal caregiving, and caregiver self-reported health outcomes after propensity score matching to balance caregivers' background characteristics. Results: We found the 2006 LTCI reform relatively reduced the use of formal LTC services and relatively increased the percentage of experiencing long hours of informal caregiving (> 3 h per day) among the caregivers for seniors with low care needs compared to those for seniors with high care needs. The effects of the LTCI reform for the caregivers for seniors with low care needs were 2.2 percentage point higher on caregivers' experiencing poor self-rated health (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.7-3.7; p = 0.01), 2.7 percentage point higher on experiencing symptoms of a depressive state (95%CI: 0.5-4.8; p = 0.03), and 4.7 percentage point higher on experiencing symptoms of musculoskeletal diseases (95%CI, 3.6-5.7; p < 0.001), compared to those for seniors with high care needs. Conclusions: Reduced formal care availability under the Japanese LTCI reform increased hours of informal caregiving corresponding to reduced use of formal LTC and deteriorated multiple dimensions of caregiver health. Our findings may highlight the importance of enhancing the availability of formal LTC services for caregiver health.
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