Senior moments

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The other weekend, I attended a birthday party for a friend who turned 60. Many of my high school classmates celebrated their 70th birthdays this year. God willing, I still have a few more months before I do that.

Having been a senior citizen by definition of our laws for almost a decade now, I have learned to accept the facts of life that seniors must live with. I am no longer in denial even to myself but already relish being a senior.

Senior citizenship sorts of creeps into one’s life. You don’t feel any different but you just wake up one day and realize you are one.

For some of us, our companies have retirement policies that require bowing out of active management at 60. Other companies extend the services of their most valuable managers up to 65 or beyond.

Keeping key managers beyond the usual retirement age makes sense. Companies can continue to reap the benefits from the decades of a senior executive’s experience.

But if very capable successors are waiting in line, it is probably better to let go of day-to-day responsibilities and just provide counsel from the sidelines.

Given the progress of modern medicine, people tend to live longer lives. Unfortunately, society has not prepared for that. I have often seen very capable seniors sharply deteriorate physically once they are fully retired.

Society, and that includes employers and families, must carefully plan retirements. Handing over a retirement check, even a fat one, delivers an end of life message to people who had been active all their lives. That can lead to depression and health problems.

Early retirement may however be a basically urban phenomenon. Farmers don’t retire for as long as they can still work the fields.

PIDS, the government economic think tank, points out that 42.1 percent of the senior citizen population in 2015 are gainful workers, of which a bulk are skilled agriculture, forestry and fishery workers (37.7 percent) and workers engaged in elementary occupations (15.8 percent). On the other hand, 22.3 percent were categorized as pensioners, retired, and disabled.

This is why I am wondering why some legislators want to bring down the retirement age of government workers to 56. Theoretically, early retirement allows an individual to go into another career. But for most people the idleness that follows, kills.

Early retirement also adds more burden to the government’s retirement funds that are already running low as it is. For private sector workers, losing health benefits at a time in one’s life when it is needed most is also a big problem.

Worldwide, societies are ageing fast. While we have a rather young population now, the number of seniors in our society is also increasing. I am not sure we are planning well enough for the economic consequences.

Based on the 2000 Census-based projections, life expectancy at birth for females and males born from 2005 to 2010 stands at 71.64 and 66.11 years, respectively (PSA 2011). Then again, I have two aunts in their 90s and my mother in law is 96.

Given the projected increase in the number of senior citizens, PIDS observed that greater support is needed in terms of health care and income. Senior citizens are most likely no longer economically active.

We want to believe the family provides a safety net in our society. That makes the problem of caring for the elderly less pronounced compared to the United States, for example.

But things are changing here too. Our urban families have become more nuclear and grandparents are not as welcome as they once were.

This is why we need to review our institutional social protection system.  I am sure there is more society and government can do to  adequately meet the needs of seniors.

It is nice to enjoy the senior citizen’s discount on prescription drugs, restaurant meals and airline tickets. But there are more basic needs specially for those in the lower socio-economic classes.

Cash benefits government gives to indigent seniors like the P500 monthly stipend cannot sustain the day-to-day needs of indigent senior citizens, particularly if given only every six months.

Government must revisit the amount and frequency of payouts of the social pension program.

PIDS: “Increasing the monthly stipend while improving the targeting system to target indigent senior citizens will ensure that the social pension will be an effective social protection program for poor and disadvantaged senior citizens.”

In formulating the national budget, our legislators must realize that “our growing population of senior citizens entails an increasing need for health care and related services. Senior citizens often suffer from several health conditions, take various maintenance medications, and/or require more interactions with health care providers.”

In the 2007 Philippine Study on Ageing, PIDS cites, half of older Filipinos consider themselves to be of average health; however, they have reported functional disabilities and illnesses such as arthritis, rheumatism, high blood pressure, and chronic back pain.

A study in 2014 found out that, in terms of financing their health expenses, majority rely on support from their family or relatives (50.1 percent), followed by those spending their personal money (48.2 percent), while only 29.9 percent draw from their health insurance or pension.

Household surveys of the PSA show that in 2017, PhilHealth covers only 51.4 percent of the total elderly population as members and dependents, despite the universal coverage mandate of the Universal Health Care Act.

Even those who had good employment during their younger years and have received some kind of retirement pay, feel financial insecurity. They worry about so-called “catastrophic diseases” dissipating their savings.

Many say they wouldn’t have minded contributing more to SSS or some retirement fund if it guarantees them health coverage in their twilight years.

Still, on the whole, it is still good to be a senior citizen in this country. Times are changing but there is still respect and support for older people.

It is never too early to do what we should to prepare for more people becoming seniors in the years to come.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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