Calls to boost nursing care for the elderly

Updated: 2011-11-05 10:50

By He Dan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - To meet the soaring demands of an ever-aging society, authorities are being urged to boost efforts to develop nursing-care insurance.

China has three national medical-insurance programs, yet none of them cover the costs for citizens who need daily, long-term assistance - an estimated 33 million people.

"At present, most senior citizens are taken care of by their children or spend their savings on care services. Both of these models face challenges," said Liang Tao, director of life insurance regulation for the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

The biggest obstacles to elderly care are the shrinking size of families and inadequate investment in the nursing industry, he said during a symposium about China's development strategy for long-term nursing care, held in Beijing on Friday.

Zhao Zhiyun understands the challenges all too well. The 83-year-old retiree from Beijing said both he and his wife have undergone leg operations and now find it difficult to walk.

"Our two daughters live in different cities so we can't expect them to take care of us," said the former teacher, who has so far struggled to hire a qualified full-time caretaker.

The sixth national census conducted last year found that more than 13 percent of the population - 178 million - are aged 60 or over.

However, calculations by the China National Committee on Aging suggest this figure will rise to 487 million by the end of 2050, and an estimated 100 million will live with moderate or severe disabilities.

Going by this estimate, it will cost about 3.5 trillion yuan ($552 billion) to provide substantial nursing services for the elderly on a long-term basis, said Chen Chuanshu, deputy director of the aging committee.

Developing nursing-care insurance, including commercial varieties, will ensure sufficient money is available, he said.

Liang agreed, adding that commercial insurance can meet the diverse needs of consumers.

Chinese companies started to provide nursing care insurance in 2006 and, as of last year, there were 21 relevant products in the mainland market, he said.

However, Fang Jiake, deputy director of Hetong Senior Citizens' Welfare Association in Tianjin, said commercial nursing care insurance cannot solve the problem for everyone.

"Commercial insurers usually target the rich, and as it is a burgeoning sector (in China), it's hard to tell whether they can survive the market test," he said.

China Daily