Fresh perspective on Canada’s greying population

Fresh perspective on Canada’s greying population

Baby boomers started turning 65 this year, and that means the aging of Canada’s population is about to pick up speed.

The fact that boomers are now hitting their senior years has spurred no shortage of public discussion and debate about how the health care system will meet their needs—and what it means for the system as a whole.

Of course, plenty of hyperbole has also found its way into the mix. Much of that has focused on the “grey tsunami” that is about to crush any hope of sustaining health care as we know it.

Context is critical, and we believe good information provides that.

Our special study, Health Care Cost Drivers: The Facts., revealed that, contrary to popular belief, aging of the population has not been the most important driver of health costs over the past decade. In fact, the data shows aging was responsible for annual increases of just 0.8% per year between 1998 and 2008.

While aging can’t be dismissed, other factors such as population growth and compensation paid to health care professionals played a greater role in rising costs over this period.

“What we’ve done with our cost drivers study is say that, retrospectively, aging has not been a significant issue for sustainability of the system,” says John Wright, CIHI’s president and CEO. “It’s an important issue that we felt we had to take a close look at. We think this lays a good foundation for discussion.”

Good information is also critical to prepare better for the future.

Health Care in Canada, 2011: A Focus on Seniors and Aging provides a comprehensive look at how seniors are using the health system today and how the system will have to adapt to meet their needs down the road.

Although Canadians 65 and older are healthier than ever before and represent just 14% of the population, they still use 40% of hospital services in this country and account for about 45% of all provincial and territorial health spending. With this age group expected to make up a quarter of the population by 2036, prepping the system to handle that needs to start early.

“Health care planners and providers are rightfully looking at ways to meet the needs of a growing senior population,” says Wright. “To do that, they need to know where the gaps are and where efforts need to be focused to keep the system strong.”

Improved integration across the health care continuum, greater focus on prevention and better adoption and use of new technologies are among the ideas outlined in our report to meet Canadians’ changing needs. 

That said, the reality is that some provinces have older populations than others, so they’re feeling the effects of aging on the system sooner. Also on the horizon over the next few years is the renewal of funding agreements between the provincial and federal governments. In all of this, understanding the population’s needs and the drivers of health care costs is key. Planning for the future will depend on reliable information.