Is Senior-Care Really Driving Health-Care Costs?
The senior demographic is surging faster than any other age group in Canada. There are about twice as many centenarians as there were just 15 years ago. And fifteen years from now, almost one in four Canadians will be a senior.
So what does spending look like in a society where a quarter of our citizens are enjoying their autumn years?
One thing we know is that we don’t know. While about half of all hospital spending was on seniors in 2008, it doesn’t mean that will be true in 2018 or 2028.
“The population aging has been shown in research to be not the major driver of the increase of health-care costs,” says Dr. Janet Fast, co-director of research on aging, policies and practice at the University of Alberta.
“The major drivers are things like medications and medical technology.” Certainly, newer drugs and more precise imaging tests are not restricted to the golden-agers.
One might expect we’ll need many more spaces in nursing homes and long-term care hospitals. The Conference Board of Canada’s new report Future Care for Canadian Seniors projects that based on today’s numbers, the cost of providing continuing care to seniors in 30 years’ time will shoot up to $177.3 billion (it was $28.3 billion in 2011).
But while the number of Canadians requiring care supports will rise, it’s difficult to predict where seniors of the future will want to – and be able to – live and receive services, and who pays for it.
The development of healthy habits earlier can make a massive difference to rates of chronic diseases, like hypertension and diabetes, later. Public health measures promoting the flu shot, preventing prescription mix-ups or decreasing falls can reduce hospitalizations in this age group.
Whatever the health-care costs associated with seniors, very often they’re giving back in spades. Seniors do much more volunteer work than younger people, says Fast. They’re often providing care and even financial support to their children’s families, or their own spouses. They’re taxpayers, even on pensions.
“There are lots of ways in which seniors continue to make contributions in later life that we forget about, when we talk about dependence of seniors.”
Should policies change as our population ages? Absolutely. Should we promote healthy aging and support for caregivers? Definitely. Should we steel ourselves for a massive economic drain as our population ages?
Covering the future
With health costs on the rise, many are worried that, somewhere down the road, publicly funded services may not adequately cover the full gamut of their future care needs. Responding to this anxiety, the insurance industry is offering new products, such as long-term health policies. Long-term care insurance is designed to help pay for expenses incurred in case of loss of independence, so the policy holder does not have to deplete his or her savings.