Baby boomers are getting increasingly antsy about the availability and quality of health care as they age.
That is the message that emerges from a new poll, commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association. The survey of Canadians aged 45-plus shows that 78 per cent of them are worried that they will not be able to access necessary health services like homecare and long-term care in a timely fashion when they need them.
Eighty-one per cent of those polled also expressed worries about the quality of the care they will able to access.
In addition, the majority of older Canadians – 61 per cent – lack confidence that hospitals and long-term care facilities can handle the needs of Canada's elderly population, or that there are enough services to help Canadian seniors live at home longer (60 per cent).
And, of course, money is an issue, with fully half of baby boomers worrying that they won't be able to afford the health care they need in their golden years. This despite the fact that 68 per cent of those over the age of 65 have supplemental health insurance to help cover services that do not fall under the rubric of medicare.
Dr. Louis Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said the survey results underscore the desperate need for a pan-Canadian seniors' strategy to ensure medicare can meet the needs of the country's aging population.
"Canada desperately needs a seniors' strategy and politicians should pay attention during the next federal election," he said. "This should be an issue one would ignore at their own political peril."
He said the challenge an aging population poses cannot be understated. In 1971, seniors represented 8 per cent of the population; today they represent 15 per cent; and by the time all baby boomers have reached the age of 65, it will be 25 per cent of the population.
In the poll the CMA commissioned last year – part of what it calls its annual health care report card – 85 per cent of Canadians said they supported a seniors' strategy. This year, the question was asked to those over the age of 45, and 95 per cent of them were in favour of having a plan.
In the background paper that accompanies the poll, the CMA says the purpose of a seniors' strategy is to remodel the health system to better meet the needs of the baby boomer demographic. In particular, infrastructure planning would ensure the better use of healthcare dollars so medicare can remain affordable.
The CMA notes that hospital care costs about $1,000 a day, compared to $130 in a long-term care facility, and $55 for homecare. Yet far too many seniors end up in hospital by default because of shortages in other areas.
The physicians' group estimates that getting elderly patients into the appropriate facility would save the system at least $2.3-billion annually.
The poll also shows that caregivers are increasingly feeling the burden of providing care to aging relatives and friends.
More than one in four Canadians currently provide health care to a loved one. In the survey, 71 per cent of them said this poses serious conflicts with personal and work responsibilities, and 64 per cent said the caregiving functions cause a high level of stress.
The Ipsos Reid poll was conducted by phone between July 17 and July 24 with 1,000 Canadians aged 45 years and older. The results are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.