For many, retirement is a time to pick up a hobby, travel the world, and spend time with family. Unfortunately for some Ontarians, the dream of “the golden years” will be just that – a dream.
For Mary Hynes, a retired teacher living in the GTA, living paycheque-to-paycheque has meant having to compromise certain areas of her health and well-being, particularly when it comes to health expenses that are not covered by OHIP. Mary couldn’t afford to pay for hearing aids until she was left a small sum of money after a family member passed away. She also had to work out a timed payment plan to pay for dental care costs. Without adequate coverage for vision care, Mary finds herself unable to get new glasses, when she needs them. “By the time I am able to afford new glasses, my prescription will have changed 2 or 3 times,” she says. “Because while the government pays for my eye exam, they don’t pay for glasses.” Without more comprehensive health coverage, services such as vision and dental care are quickly becoming an either/or situation for many low-income older adults.
Mary’s situation isn’t surprising. Our recent work demonstrates that in order to thrive, rather than just get by, an individual needs to meet their basic living expenses, social needs, maintain connections to community and family – all while also managing health expenses. Thriving also means being able to manage unexpected changes in health or life circumstances.
We see that there is a substantial gap between the Guaranteed Annual Income for Ontario pensioners, $18,551, the median annual after-tax income of older adults living alone, approximately $25,000, and the annual after-tax income needed to thrive during retirement, approximately $33,000.
The after-tax cost estimate to thrive during retirement is broken down into eight domains:
Each of these dimensions are important for health and well-being in later life. When an individual does not have the income needed to thrive other aspects of their health are compromised. People may have to sacrifice going to the dentist, social outings, prescription drugs, or even groceries.
Offsetting some of these expenses for older adults, such as by providing publicly available extended health coverage for someone like Mary, could alleviate the financial strain elsewhere. This could allow Mary to register for the university course that she’s always wanted to do or purchase more fruit and vegetables instead of replying on canned and frozen foods to tide her over until her next paycheque.
If our goal is to ensure that every older adult in the GTA can thrive in their retirement, we need a policy approach that considers the importance of both health and health equity.
To learn more about Thriving in the City for older adults, please read our most recent reports: (1) Thriving in the City: A Framework for Income and Health in Retirement, and (2) Thriving in the City: What does it cost to have a healthy retirement?