Ag­ing prob­lems de­serve more at­ten­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Our Hong Kong Foun­da­tion on Tues­day pub­lished a study on Hong Kong’s ag­ing so­ci­ety, with some prac­ti­cal rec­om­men­da­tions in­clud­ing dis­tribut­ing health­care vouch­ers to peo­ple aged above 45 for health checks and sub­si­diz­ing mem­bers of that de­mo­graphic with one or more chronic con­di­tions. There is no deny­ing that Hong Kong is an ag­ing so­ci­ety, which en­joys the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the long­est life ex­pectancy in the world. We have many rea­sons to be proud of Hong Kong’s eco­nomic suc­cess but can­not ne­glect the very real and present chal­lenges posed by our ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. Ad­mit­tedly it is an “old story”. But ag­ing prob­lems are be­com­ing more ur­gent than ever and de­serve more at­ten­tion as time flies and the com­mu­nity “ages” fur­ther.

The Hong Kong SAR has been cop­ing with the ever ap­par­ent prob­lem of ag­ing so­ci­ety since its birth in 1997 and it is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion may over­whelm the young SAR with all the ex­tra cost in care for se­nior cit­i­zens if it fails to take re­me­dial mea­sures im­me­di­ately. As much as the phi­los­o­phy of gov­er­nance is al­ler­gic to the prospect of a wel­fare so­ci­ety, the govern­ment is ob­li­gated to bear some of the costs of ag­ing. That is why the foun­da­tion has rec­om­mended to the govern­ment a Chronic Dis­ease Man­age­ment Voucher (CDMV) scheme for over-45s.

Health is the big­gest is­sue that comes with ag­ing. Peo­ple tend to think ag­ing is not a prob­lem but ag­ing with­out good health is. The bod­ies of older peo­ple, after work­ing for half a cen­tury or more, tend to de­velop prob­lems that make them suf­fer but do not kill them im­me­di­ately. The most preva­lent chronic dis­eases are high blood pressure and diabetes. As the govern­ment does not have the re­sources to help over-45s cope with all kinds of chronic dis­eases they may be suf­fer­ing from, it there­fore makes most sense to fo­cus on the most com­monly seen. The pro­posed scheme could also help older pa­tients avoid the long waits for pub­lic med­i­cal ser­vices and at the same time lessen the pressure on such ser­vices.

Govern­ment as­sis­tance in the form of the CDMV scheme is not ex­pected to solve the ag­ing prob­lem for good but should help ease the fi­nan­cial bur­den of many over-45s and re­tirees. This is par­tic­u­larly true if the sub­si­dized health check­ups can help cit­i­zens pre­vent or iden­tify chronic dis­eases at an early stage, there­fore re­duc­ing their fu­ture med­i­cal ex­penses. After all, preven­tion is bet­ter than cure.

Some may be con­cerned about ad­di­tional fis­cal pressure on the govern­ment. But the long-term ben­e­fits will more than com­pen­sate for the short-term ad­di­tional ex­pen­di­ture.

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