Experts call for better scheme for senior citizens’ care

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 - Page 2

The government must avoid writing a blank check for the long-term care insurance scheme to be introduced next year by improving both software and hardware infrastructures, analysts said.

Public attention has focused on the issue of how senior citizens are cared for after elderly residents were left for hours up to their chests in water at a care facility in Kaohsiung County last month when Typhoon Fanapi caused serious flooding.

There were two reasons that care institutions of such poor quality could remain in business, said Tsai Yi-hsuan, head of the Mennonite Social Welfare Foundation’s southern service center.

First, although the nation has sufficient care facilities, their distribution is uneven, Tsai said.

A poor quality establishment would still be able to attract people if it was the only care facility in the region, he said.

Second, price competition could lead to layoffs and hence, to worsening conditions, he said.

However, care homes are not the only option for taking care of the elderly. In fact, of the 2.47 million people aged over 65 in Taiwan, only 41,000 stay in institutions, according to Ministry of the Interior statistics as of the end of June.

With people aged over 65 expected to account for about one-fifth of the population by 2025, the government began a 10-year plan on long-term care in 2007, said Huang Pi-hsia (黃碧霞), director-general of the ministry’s Department of Social Affairs.

The plan includes a budget of NT$81.7 billion (US$2.64 billion) for non-governmental organizations to provide care services in communities and homes where seniors can lead normal lives.

To improve long-term care, the government has plans for a new insurance system, similar to the current National Health Insurance scheme, in which young people will pay a premium to be able to enjoy care services at a reasonable price in their old age, analysts said.

However, experts are also worried about the insufficient number of care providers and organizations, as well as the system needed to deliver welfare services.

Although official figures claim there are more than 62,000 trained caregivers, Tsai said only 16,000 were actually providing care services, adding that this was because the nation’s foreign-worker policy was too open.

The lower pay given to foreign workers, and some employers’ expectations that caregivers should help with domestic chores were both factors keeping trained caregivers from taking up jobs, analysts said.

The government cannot just rely on the proposed insurance scheme, but should also try to resolve these other problems hindering the development of long-term care, they said.