Opinion: The critical need for better senior care insurance

Government must ensure affordable access to senior care insurance by collaborating with private insurance providers.

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As Canada’s demographics shift, the challenge of caring for a growing elderly population and the necessity for better support for senior care cannot be overstated. With government-funded senior care being limited, private insurance is an underutilized tool that can help millions of Canadians age with security and dignity.

While government-funded provincial health care covers most major medical treatments, senior care is generally not one of them. When care is available through the public system, it is typically in the form of a co-pay, with the user paying a portion of the costs, and wait lists are shockingly long.

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Quebec has nearly 45,000 people waiting for home care through the public system and a further 4,200 on wait lists to get into CHSLDs, many of whom are unable to pay for alternative support, and many will die before they receive the care they need.

Although health-care costs account for roughly 40 per cent of all provincial spending, the reality is much more money is required to address the need for better senior care. However, as provinces and territories continue to wrangle with Ottawa for funding, government shows little willingness or ability to address this issue.

As one of the few services where Canadians can get private insurance for their medical needs, senior care insurance — also known as home care or long-term care insurance — can facilitate greater access to the financial assistance required when seniors need care.

In Quebec, private senior care services are costly, with the median at $5,625 per month, but this can reach up to $10,000 a month depending on the type and frequency of care required, making it unaffordable for many and leading millions to spend their final years alone without proper support.

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To help cover this expense, senior care insurance comes in several forms. Policies can start from around $50 a month and, on the higher end, provide as much as $10,000 a month in coverage.

Yet, despite the availability of private senior care insurance, many Canadians fail to take advantage of these services or are unaware they exist until it is too late as policies need to be started earlier in life. This is a situation that needs to change, and quickly. To highlight the lack of knowledge about this, I called three of Canada’s largest insurers to ask about the long-term care insurance plans listed on their websites, and not one of them knew what I was talking about.

Currently, 18 per cent of Canadians, or roughly 6 million people, are over 65, with this number expected to increase to over 10 million in the next 15 years.

This growing catastrophe is already starting to have negative economic impacts as overall productivity declines — meaning less money and lower living standards for all Canadians — due to population aging and time spent by millions looking after family members.

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Apart from economic implications, caregiver burnout and the mental and physical health challenges it creates, both among professionals and family members who shoulder a huge portion of caregiving, is driving thousands of workers out of the profession and leading many families to ruin.

While labour shortages in public health are impeding the ability to deliver proper care, availability in the private sector is different. Although constraints exist, private senior care provides an alternative for those unable to access public services in a timely manner, and insurance is the best solution to help cover the costs.

Beyond private insurance options, an analysis by Deloitte explored possible government solutions to the senior care challenge, starting by moving some patients out of hospitals and into long-term care facilities, and by moving other patients out of long-term care and into home care. In doing so, government can save billions of dollars as long-term care is cheaper than hospital care, and home care is cheaper than long-term care. This money can instead go to hiring, training and offering better pay to the army of caregivers needed to support Canada’s seniors.

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Deloitte’s estimates suggested that, by 2031, demand for long-term care will grow from nearly 400,000 people to over 600,000 people, and home care will increase from 1.2 million to 1.8 million, with the costs associated expected to hit nearly $60 billion annually by 2031. By 2060, it is estimated that the cumulative cost of providing long-term care to Canadian seniors will be $1.2 trillion, with only half of that covered by current government programs.

To solve the growing need for senior care, government must work with the private sector to create better support programs and services. This means increased funding for senior care initiatives, bolstering recruitment and training of health-care professionals, and ensuring affordable access to senior care insurance by collaborating with private insurance providers.

Failure to adequately address this issue will further strain both the health-care system — already on the verge of collapse — and the economy.

By championing private insurance and increasing government funding, we can ensure that seniors receive the support they need to age with dignity.

Sandy White is co-founder of RT Medical, a health-care business that offers senior home care services.

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