How well do we in America care for our elderly population as compared to other nations? Americans spend at least twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but generally get lower quality, less efficiency, and have the less equitable system. Health spending averages over $7000 per person per year in the U.S. but many Americans get no health care at all. In this regard the United States ranked last when compared to six other countries: Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand.
In a study comparing senior care in Denmark and Germany with that in the U.S., both make our system appear confusing and heartless. Any lawful resident in Denmark is entitled to essentially free health care for elders. Germany’s system is not quite as generous. However home care is free and the system will even pay for a professional caregiver to fill in while a family caregiver takes a vacation of up to four weeks.
It is actually not possible to compare elder care in the U.S. with that in developing nations. Institutional care is rare in Asia, Africa and Latin America and extended family usually seeks to take care of their seniors. Also, life expectancy is much lower in many of these countries: Malawi (41 years) and Zimbabwe (37.9 years) compared to 77.9 in America. China, one of the fastest growing economies, still ties much elder care to families. Also acute care is limited to the short-term. However, one is seeing more senior care facilities popping up in various regions of China. Japan has a very rapidly growing elderly population and care is divided between family, medical facilities, and communal centers. It was surprising to some researchers to learn that over one quarter of Japan’s elderly, however, consider the quality of their medical care a very serious problem. This is a surprise because the Japanese elderly have been thought to receive much greater respect and deference because of age.
As seniors in America finally reach a point of increasing helplessness, they must receive proper care. The United States has a patchwork system of providing long-term care. Over 50 million Americans have no health coverage at all, and it is uncertain how many seniors are stuck between age 55 and the age when Medicare or Medicaid kick in. A fortunate minority have private long-term care insurance. Many others must self-fund or impoverish themselves to qualify for Medicaid coverage. Thus, family members, mostly spouses and daughters, end up with the sometimes overwhelming duty of caring for the senior. Though many are convinced that senior health care in America needs to be fixed, there doesn’t seem to be any agreement on how to provide a lasting fix that would improve care without breaking the bank.