Saskatchewan's senior citizens deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labours in retirement. With the baby boomer generation entering their senior years, the population of elderly people will experience significant growth in the coming years. We must ensure that people have the opportunity to make the most of their final years while enjoying appropriate housing and other necessary supports, without this becoming an unsustainable burden on our healthcare system.
Housing and Home Care
Housing is a front-of-mind issue for many seniors. We currently have a long waiting list for long-term care spots, and as a result, throughout the province we have seniors housed in hospitals, not because they need that level of acute care but because there are no long-term spots available for them. This is stressful on seniors and represents a significant drain on public resources.
Increase the number of long-term care spots, spanning the full spectrum of care, is the obvious solution – both more affordable and more dignified. This will involve building new facilities or adapting existing facilities for this purpose. But we should also invest in other models of care that would allow more seniors to stay in their homes or with family longer, reserving long-term facilities for those in most need.
To assist seniors to stay in their own homes we need to expand home care. This means more hours from nurses, but also expanding the services home care offers to include more domestic chores that are difficult for seniors but not appropriate work for nurses. We also need to make sure that in-home services do not result in isolation for seniors by offering day programming and respite options.
We can also reduce the expense and risk of seniors staying at home longer by providing free energy and safety audits (eg. fall risk for seniors, carbon monoxide monitoring, energy efficiency) and grants to fund the repairs and retrofits necessary to save utility and health care dollars.
Finally, we can introduce a program to support, through grants or tax incentives, families that choose to care for an elderly family member at home. Families and primary caregivers should be offered resources, support and training in how to respond to challenges they may face with an aging family member.
This balance between home-based and institutional care can help alleviate some of the pressures of a growing senior population and provide viable options for seniors and their families to choose for themselves the best approach.
Seniors deserve up-to-date and easily accessible information regarding government services in such key areas as health care, housing, pension benefits and education. At the same time, it is also very important that government be aware of the changing needs of seniors and retirees. A Seniors’ Secretariat would help provide this link between seniors and government. It would also assist in ensuring our government takes a comprehensive and integrated approach to seniors’ issues.
In order to properly meet the needs of the province’s diverse population, we must strengthen relationships across generations to work together collaboratively in the development of policy. Only by establishing structures for positive partnership in policy development can we develop a platform that reflects the needs of the people of Saskatchewan. This is the kind of democratic renewal we need if we’re going to be able to address the challenges we face as a province.
Controlling Health Care Costs
I am calling for the introduction of a universally accessible, publicly funded drug plan similar to the one that was unveiled by the Saskatchewan NDP in the 2007 election campaign. However, I don’t think we should stop there.
Prescription drugs are the fastest growing expense in health care, which is itself the area of greatest public expenditure. We need a bold approach to controlling drug costs. My proposal is SaskPharm: a new Crown Corporation that would produce generic drugs right here in Saskatchewan.
SaskPharm could provide drugs to Saskatchewan Health at a significant discount, greatly decreasing the cost of drug purchases. These savings could then be allocated to other sectors of the health care system such as equipment and personnel, or reinvested in research and development. If prescriptions of SaskPharm products were sold to the public at a small mark-up, savings could be passed on to consumers while still providing sufficient revenue to maintain and expand SaskPharm’s ongoing operations. Medications could also be sold to other provinces and jurisdictions, supporting our province's economy and contributing to a burgeoning research and development industry.
Protecting and Expanding Pensions
Working Canadians, both unionized and non-unionized, place a high value on their pensions. Both federal and provincial governments will need to make pension funding and regulation a priority as the population ages.
As suggested by one of my fellow leadership candidates, economist Erin Weir, Saskatchewan should join other provincial governments in pushing for an expanded Canada Pension Plan to provide a higher level of universal, portable, defined-benefit coverage. And if the federal government proceeds with raising the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67, we should provide a provincial benefit equivalent to Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Saskatchewan seniors aged 65 and 66. We should also explore working with the federal government to establish a national pension insurance system in order to protect pensions from the type of market upheavals that cost so many in the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
A healthy society is a society that respects, provides for, and learns from its elders. With a bold and proactive approach, we can do right by our seniors without burdening working-age people with the cost, thus ensuring a healthier future for all of us.