The next discussion we need to have: Caring for seniors

Natalie Stechyson: Thanks, Susan.

Natalie Stechyson: What do you think, André?

André Picard: The greatest cost driver in our health system is increased utilization – not aging. Costs for treating the sickest of the sick have remained pretty constant but we spend a lot of money on treatments for people of all ages who are healthy.

Natalie Stechyson: We have a few reader comments now .

Comment From Ken Collier: Studies I’ve seen from BC and Alberta, plus Andre Picard’s recent column in G&M show seniors are not the big pressure on the health system sometimes portrayed. Are there other studies from Canada or other countries that are the same, similar or different?

André Picard: The research is similar around the world – particularly from countries like the UK that are a little “older” than Canada. I think a lot of the confusion stems from the fact that the data show that the biggest healthcare costs are in the last few weeks of life — and most people who die are elderly.

Susan Eng – CARP: There are a lot of expert reports – including recently the Parliamentary Budget Office which repeated that the rising health care costs are due to the price of treatments and more people, as Andre says, taking them up – all in the cause of prevention and self reliance –which in itself is not a bad thing But it is easier for politicians who do not have the political will to make structural changes – something they can do – to blame rising health costs on the aging population – something they can’t do anything about.

Natalie Stechyson: Is caring for family members at home a possible solution to health care costs?

Susan Eng – CARP: CARP argues that if aging at home is properly funded and supported, with the potential to lever the contribution of family caregivers, there is the potential to divert massive amounts of demand from the health care budgets – leaving more money to build the long term care beds for those who need them. This requires political will – the vision was already provided in the Romanov reports – but the funding pursuant to his health care accords is coming up for renewal. How willing are people to hold their politicians’ feet to the fire to get the change we need? Money has in fact been spent but we are still waiting for demonstrable results – as outlined in the recent Ontario Auditor General’s report

André Picard: I agree with Susan. Aging at home is what most people want, and our system should be built to facilitate that choice. If done properly, it’s not necessarily a cost-saving measure, but it is more humane and results in better care. But aging at home is not just about homecare; it requires a broad range of social policies, from flexible work policies for caregivers through to decent public transit and clean sidewalks for seniors living in the community.

Comment From Alan Burke: Your own newspaper shows that most of the problem is increased demand from the entire public. There’s also gross inefficiency in the system. As I commented to the article, I’m caught in the middle, caring for both children and an 89-year old parent.