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Tuesday, December 13, 2016, 17:08

Call for medical subsidy for middle-aged people

By Carrie Qiu

Call for medical subsidy for middle-aged people
(Infographic by Alex Tang/China Daily)

HONG KONG - One of Hong Kong’s most prominent public policy think tanks urged the government to sponsor physical checkups for the middle-aged population and provide medical allowances for chronically ill members of that demographic.

The proposal, advanced by Our Hong Kong Foundation on Tuesday, included a one-off subsidy of a total of HK$250 million and about HK$580 million annual recurrent expenditure.

The organization suggested that the government hand out HK$1,000 for anyone over 45 as a one-off dole to pay for physical checkups to identify possible chronic diseases.

For people diagnosed with or already suffering hypertension and diabetes, the two most prevalent chronic diseases in Hong Kong, the foundation recommends an annual medical subsidy of HK$3,040 so that patients may seek private medical services, relieving some of the pressure on the city’s overburdened public hospitals.

The city’s population projections reveal that by 2064, the median age of Hong Kong citizens will likely reach 53.5 years, with more than one in every three aged 65 or older. The age dependency ratio eventually will increase to a level where 1,000 working people will support 658 elderly. That would represent a doubling of the 2014 ratio.

Government statistics show that the percentage of Hong Kong people suffering at least one chronic illness jumps sharply for people over 45.

Yeoh Eng-kiong, director of the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that people aged between 45 and 64 were six times more likely to suffer from at least one chronic disease than those aged between 14 and 25, and the likelihood for those aged over 65 years was 18 times higher.

Yeoh, who also led the foundation’s research that became the basis for the proposal, said that 70 percent of chronic diseases were preventable.

The writers of the report suggested the government introduce a Chronic Disease Management Voucher Scheme, to supplement the prevailing Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme.

The prevailing voucher scheme, launched in 2009, has been raised from HK$250 a year to HK$2,000 for people over 70 to help them seek medical treatment.

Given the current 3.5 million people aged over 45, the foundation suggested that the implementation of the scheme should be introduced in phases over the next three years, firstly to cover those from low-income households.

“Consider it as an investment,” said Yeoh. “The return will lower the cost from allocating labor and financial resources for old age chronic care in the future.”

However, Cecilia Chan Lai-wan, professor in health and social work from the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong, believed people need to prepare for old age because they now live much longer.

“What we need to do is to encourage a healthier lifestyle, and Hong Kong has never indoctrinated (people) in healthy lifestyle,” said Chan at a summit Tuesday afternoon following the release of the report.

She said a healthy lifestyle included healthy eating habits, regular exercise and a good psychological state. She endorsed the prevailing Government Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme introduced in phases since 2012, which encouraged the elderly to commute and travel more.

Some 858,000 daily trips on average were made by the elderly under what is now called the HK$2 scheme for public transport fare, government figures showed.

Also attending the summit, Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor believed age should no longer be a determinant on retirement, given the labor force participation rate for people aged 65 or above has increased from 5.8 percent in 2006 to 9.4 percent in 2015.

Lam said that Hong Kong is facing major demographic challenges. People aged 65 or above will increase from 17 percent this year to 30 percent in less than 20 years; and the population aged 75 or above will double during that same period, from 550,000 to 1.17 million.

“For those who prefer to work on a voluntary basis, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and many NGOs are recruiting elderly volunteers, with those registered with the SWD amounting to over 150,000.

“Seeing this potential, the SWD has launched a two-year pilot project to train grandparents as child carers in home settings. The response was very enthusiastic and all the 540 training places have been taken up very quickly.”

She said that the demographic challenges in Hong Kong also called for new thinking, including the application of technology to improve the elderly’s quality of life.

For example, the research and development centers supported by the Innovation and Technology Fund have developed a number of elderly-friendly products, including smart vests that can help locate elderly suffering from dementia and a guiding cane that provide voice guidance for the visually impaired along tactile paving, Lam said.

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