We currently reside in an unbelievable time for health care in America; it is under critical, relentless debate and may potentially see tremendous change in the next decade. We look to other countries- Great Britain, Japan, Germany, among others – with different health care systems for ideas and inspiration. We look far less often to other countries experiencing the same problems as us – perhaps doing so could help both parties develop a stronger game plan for refurbishing our health care system.
ChinaDaily.com recently published an article by Cesar Chelala on long-term care and China’s aging population that sounds remarkably similar to our situation in the U.S. Long-term care (LTC) is one of the primary problems facing the current US health care system, yet we have so few working ideas to remedy it. It is expensive and potentially limitless as people live longer and longer and require care in unpredictably large amounts. The problem can be attributed largely to the rapidly aging population – a result of more effective health care developed over the past century and newly available services and technologies that enable individuals to live more years. Now we face a proportionally much larger population of older Americans but lack the money and workforce to supply the LTC this group will likely need.
The situation in China reigns similar: a proportionally large population of elderly persons living with no one to care for them. Their situation is slightly different than ours in an interesting way – a large cause of the aging population of China stems from the government’s 1970’s family planning policy that limits each family to one child. The resulting problem, that I assume was unexpected, is twofold: the population is predominately old and the proportionally smaller population of young, able-bodied persons will not only not be unable to supply enough palliative care to their elders but also fill out the workforce. Ironically, according to the article, China also passed a law in 1996 “making it a legal obligation to take care of the elders in a family.” This is going to create even greater problems in the next coming years, considering how difficult it will be for only-children to care for their elders, as well as simultaneously work and earn a living.
So, how do we fix this phenomenon? As of now, both countries – America and China – are in the speculative stage of solving the problem. However, Chelala presents a notable concept called “active aging” that could be applicable here in the U.S. This concept aims to “empower their aging populations to be active participants in economic growth.” The specifics of how the aging population can accomplish this economic participation is still unclear, but the intention of the “active aging” notion is strong and heads in the right direction. If we can pursue such a mindset in America, perhaps our aging population will seem less of a financial problem and more of an asset. It may not be a tangible fix, but I believe the core of health care reform here in America centers around cultural change. If we can convince all ages of our population that our elders are important and have the potential to boost our economy, perhaps we (and China) will have a far easier time fixing other aspects of the problem.