Advancing the Health of our Aging Population: The Role of Health Policy – Summary of the Event

By Ben Li, Student Leadership Team Co-Chair

The McMaster Health Forum Student Leadership Team, with support from the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative, recently hosted a panel discussion exploring how various forces are shaping health policies in Canada as the population grows older. The panel consisted of Dr. Walter Dawson (Director of Research and Analytics at the Oregon Health Care Association), Dr. Amanda Grenier (Director of the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging), and Dr. Michel Grignon (Director of the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis). Each of these experts gave a 15 minute talk on their work on aging and health policy, followed by a 25 minute question and answer period driven by the audience.

Dr. Dawson spoke about the various economic, cultural, and political forces shaping Canadian long-term care services financing policy as the Canadian population grows older. As a researcher from the United States, Dr. Dawson brought an interesting perspective by comparing Canadian and U.S. health policies surrounding health and aging. Though the Canadian and U.S. health systems differ greatly, both countries share a similar challenge of ensuring that the health needs of their rapidly growing senior populations are met. Dr. Dawson spoke about various ways in which financing for the Canadian and U.S. health systems can be improved to provide better long-term care services and supports for the elderly.

Dr. Grenier spoke about homelessness in an aging population and the need to develop programs and policies that better address the needs of those in late life who cannot afford housing. By providing captivating personal recounts about the struggles of homeless elderly individuals, Dr. Grenier emphasized the pressing nature of this health challenge and the need to develop better health policies to address this issue.

Dr. Grignon spoke about the economics of aging as it applies to health care. In particular, Dr. Grignon discussed an interesting concept, that “age is time to death, not time from birth.” By this, he meant that those aged 65 today have very different health needs than those aged 65 several decades ago. He emphasized the need to rethink our current policies and services that use age as an eligibility criterion in order to better address the changing health needs of our aging population.

Following these talks, students eagerly asked several thought provoking questions, including the potential impacts of upcoming physician-assisted suicide legislation in Canada on health policies surrounding long-term care, and the benefits and drawbacks of expanding home care service programs for seniors in Canada.

Overall, students found that this event to be highly engaging and educational, and have come to better appreciate the health challenges that come with an aging population and the different ways these challenges can be better addressed through more evidence-informed health policies.

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