‘The grey must pay their way,’ says health commissioner

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Resolving Europe’s ageing population crisis will require radical reform of healthcare and employment policies, a panel of experts said in Brussels yesterday (26 March).

Speaking at the European Business Summit in Brussels, the panel – which included European Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou – noted that EU citizens aged 65 and over will account for roughly of 40% of the total population by 2050. 

As a result, current retirement ages and healthcare systems will need to be radically overhauled. “The existing model cannot continue,” Commissioner Vassiliou said. 

On the subject of how to rethink retirement policies, Elizabeth Mestheneos, president of AGE (the European Older Person’s Platform) argued that as the EU population ages and people live longer, older workers will have to accept the need to work beyond current retirement norms. “We have to make the grey pay for themselves,” she said. 

However, she emphasised that for this to happen, employers must lift mandatory retirement ages and provide more flexible working arrangements, allowing older employees to combine part-time work with volunteering, community involvement and lifelong learning. 

She added that the amount spent on training over-40s in the EU today is “appallingly low” and needs to be increased urgently. 

Healthcare policy, likewise, will require urgent reform if Europe’s growing pool of senior citizens wishes to maintain a high quality of life. Dr. Roch Doliveux, CEO of global biopharma group UCB, told the panel that the reallocation of health resources to home care would be the key reform in this regard. “We must prioritise the importance of home over hospital,” he said. 

Commissioner Vassiliou, too, argued for the creation of a patient-centric health system with a stronger focus on chronic disease, and a “payment for outcome” philosophy. This would mean that patients would pay not just based on delivery of service, but of quality of outcome. 

The panel also noted that there would be a severe shortage of healthcare staff in Europe in the coming decades. 

Vasiliou concluded by saying that the combination of these policies would “ensure a healthier, albeit greyer” European workforce. 

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