Pension tension: Czechs living longer, but not in good health

Photo: Bernd Müller, Pixabay / CC0

Czechs are living longer, but many do not live well in retirement – in terms of both their physical and financial well-being. With the population rapidly aging, the nation’s already low level of “life expectancy in health” is set to further decline. The Czech government has asked the OECD to help determine how best to make the pension system sustainable. Experts say changing seniors’ dietary and lifestyle habits is a key part of the solution.

Photo: Bernd Müller,  Pixabay / CC0
A Czech man on average can now expect to live to be 76. But statistics show his years in retirement may well be less than golden: already by age 61 his health will be failing. The average Czech woman will live to be 82, but experience significant health problems at age 62.

With the average period in retirement now at over 24 years, the strain on the health and pension systems is a growing concern. Deputy Health Minister Alena Šteflová says fewer than 6 in 10 seniors take preventive measures, such as annual screenings, despite knowing the health risks.

“Cardiovascular, oncological and respiratory diseases, along with diabetes and obesity, are the biggest burdens. In about 80 percent of cases, these stem from the greatest risk factors – mainly poor nutrition, a lack of exercise, and also smoking and excessive alcohol intake.”

Czech life expectancy steadily rose in the first two decades after the Velvet Revolution and then levelled off. It is now eight years higher for men than it was in 1989 and six and a half years higher for women. But again the question is how well Czechs are living.

Olga Marková, vice president of the Association of Occupational Therapists, argues that the system needs to move away from general practitioners providing primary care and recommending specialists. Countries such as the Netherlands have a variety of specialists on hand to consult with a patient. This results in identifying issues earlier and fewer long-term stays in hospital.

“This is extremely important also in terms of quality of life. It is important that a person returns to the normal environment as quickly as possible and starts functioning well. … We must help them not only in hospital but to be able to live at home more independently and actively.”

Mind the gaps (social equality, health care, pensions)

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
Eurostat data show the Czech Republic has the lowest share of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU, at 12.2 percent in 2017 compared to the union’s average of 22 percent. But in part this stems from successive governments failing to address the pension time bomb and adequately funding the health care system.

The percentage of people over 65 has risen from 13 percent in 1989 to 20 percent today. Barring significant immigration, the figure should reach 30 percent by 2050. Currently, Czech seniors consume 45 percent of healthcare spending. So how to pay for better care for an ever-growing population of seniors and guarantee pensions for future generations?

The OECD has already identified Czech hospital management as problematic enough that significant saving can be made in this area and recommended increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said this week it will ask the OECD for further analysis and recommendations on how to reform the Czech pension system to make it sustainable long-term. A government reform could be concluded in 2021, the ministry said.