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The next discussion we need to have: Caring for seniors Add to ...

We asked, you voted: what are the next eight discussions Canada needs to have?

We held a live discussion Thursday, Dec. 9 at 12 p.m. ET on one of your top choices: Caring for seniors.

What are the challenges we face as Canada's senior population grows? There is a widespread belief that an aging population will bankrupt the health system, but what is the evidence? Does Canada have the resources to cope properly?

Globe and Mail public health reporter André Picard joined the discussion, along with our guest Susan Eng.

Mr. Picard has written extensively about senior care and has authored three best-selling health and policy books. He is widely acclaimed for his reporting and writing.

Ms. Eng is Vice President of Advocacy for CARP, a national organization committed to advocating for social change that will bring financial security, equitable access to health care and freedom from discrimination for all Canadians as they age.

Below is a transcript of Thursday's live chat:

Natalie Stechyson: Welcome to today's live chat on caring for seniors - the second topic in an eight-part series on the next discussions you think Canada needs to have. I'm Natalie Stechyson - one of The Globe's online editors. I'll be hosting today's chat with André Picard and Susan Eng. We'll be getting under way momentarily. In the meantime, please start submitting your questions.

Susan Eng - CARP: Hello

Natalie Stechyson: Hi Susan, thanks for joining us.

André Picard: Hi. I'm happy to join the discussion today and look forward to the questions and comments.

Natalie Stechyson: Hi André. Let's get started. We read over and over that Baby Boomers are going to bankrupt the health system. Is this inevitable?

Susan Eng - CARP: Canadians are indeed aging and the challenge is to do things better and smarter - not to keep doing the same things but now with resentment. The healthcare budget will continue to grow exponentially - but not because the population is aging. People are living longer but also healthier lives. Everyone is using the healthcare system more and the treatments are much more costly. The Health Council of Canada, which actually analyzes healthcare spending, declares that "The persistent belief that our aging population will overwhelm the health care system is a myth" The smarter options are right in front of us if we can look past the blinding presumptions. We can stop wasting untold billions on outmoded methods of healthcare delivery and get going on primary health teams, electronic health records, better home care and support for family caregivers. 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.

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 the case 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.

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