Age & Reason
First Anniversary of Health Reform: Now What?
Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 12:19pm
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It’s a big moment inside the Beltway as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Due in large part to the reality of our aging populations, though, there’s no reason to expect any abatement of health care costs that are still on the rise. Nor can we expect this to change between now and mid-century, as the number of children born will not provide us with enough workers to pay for the health care entitlements which aging populations have come to expect. 

So this may be an anniversary, but it’s no celebration. Members of Congress are trying to figure out what the public sector can do to prepare America to meet the oncoming challenges of aging populations. What Congress might consider are some of the interesting solutions our friends across the Atlantic have been cooking up, as reported here recently. The EU ministers are launching “a pilot innovation partnership,”    bringing together the public and the private sectors to redefine innovation for aging populations. 

Too often, innovation in health care and for the elderly seems to mean new medicines and better medical procedures. From Brussels, though, come innovations on both the supply and the demand side of the economy. We need innovations in housing, working environments, transportation, and medicine.

The EU innovation initiative aligns with a report recently published by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, which argues that aging is creating business and market opportunities. According to its recent policy brief, “Europe needs to find ways to capitalize on the potential resource of older people while managing the economic and social challenges.”

Across America, of course, outside Washington, the needs of aging populations are driving innovation.  Consider how robotic technology in hospitals, for example, is aiding in the fight against cancer.  Innovative solutions can be enabled by good public policy as we see in Brussels – even as markets themselves drive positive results.

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Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.