Senior population growing, but “boomerangst” over healthcare sustainability may be overblown

OTTAWA, February 22, 2011–A perception exists that healthcare expenditures will rise to unsustainable levels as the proportion of seniors in our population continues to grow, creating concerns about service cuts and/or tax increases. But costs do not increase uncontrollably just because there are more seniors. Research shows that the main drivers of healthcare costs in the years to come will be inflation and technological innovation, not demographics. The myth that
aging is an important cost driver is tackled in the latest issue of the Mythbusters series, published today by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF), entitled “Myth: The aging population is to blame for uncontrollable healthcare costs.”

It’s true that seniors cost the system more per capita than younger people. They are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, leading to more doctor visits and longer hospital stays, and greater “need” for pharmaceuticals. However, all people with multiple chronic conditions experience this level of need, and all people—old and young alike—in their final years of life tend to cost the system more.

“People tend to confuse the fact of demographic change with the pace at which it occurs,” said Morris Barer, Director of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia. “Given enough time, population aging will have an impact on average use of all health care services. But aging plays out at a glacial rather than avalanche pace, and so there are ample opportunities to undertake the necessary system planning and adjustment. We cannot
afford to let claims about demographic Armageddon and unsustainability distract us from the real, and more immediate, sources of cost pressure,” he added.

Another issue is that there are too many seniors in expensive acute care settings only because they have poor access to residential care, assisted living or home care services in the community. “Better integration of care and more choice for community support could help address concerns about system sustainability as the baby-boom generation ages,” stated Maureen O’Neil, President of CHSRF. “Now is the time to make policy changes underpinned by evidence to ensure the
economic implications of our changing demographics are minimized,” she added.

Read the full article here

The Canadian Health Services Research Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit corporation with a mandate to promote the use of evidence to strengthen the delivery of health services that improve the health of Canadians. CHSRF is funded through an agreement with the Government of Canada.

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