Senior solutions

By Yang Jing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-8-14 20:58:01

Aging population means more need for nursing homes, communities

Senior women sit inside an elder care community in Haikou, South China's Hainan Province. Photo: CFP

China's growing aging population means that elder care will be a significant burden, but the elder care industry is trying hard to turn this into a business opportunity.

As of the end of 2013, there were more than 200 million civilians who were 60 years or older in China, making up 14.9 percent of the total population, according to social service statistics released by China's Ministry of Civil Affairs on June 17.

China's one-child policy has resulted in a generation of couples having to take care of four parents, leading to a big challenge to China's traditional home care model.

In response, a number of options including nursing homes, retirement communities and reverse mortgages have sprung up for families under pressure.

Nursing homes

Official data showed that at the end of 2013, China had 42,475 State-owned and private elder care institutions with 4.93 million beds, 18.9 percent more than in 2012. That means there are 24.4 beds available for every 1,000 Chinese 60 years or older.

The large gap between the Chinese senior population and elder care institutions signifies great potential for the "silver economy," especially for the private players.

For State-owned nursing homes, which offer more competitive prices than private ones, applicants may have to wait for months or even years before getting a bed in one.

Le-amor nursing home, founded in 2009, is a private elder care institution located in a Beijing suburb.

A staff member of Le-amor who wished to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Wednesday that about 150 seniors, most of which are around 80 years old, live in the nursing home.

The monthly payment depends on the size of rooms chosen by customers as well as their health condition, the staff member said, noting the average monthly payment for a couple who can care for themselves is about 7,000 yuan ($1,137). For bedridden seniors, the price will be higher depending on their specific situation.

Meanwhile, the average pension for retirees nationwide was just above 2,000 yuan per month in 2014 after the State Council increased the pension on January 1 this year. Even in Beijing, the average pension is only about 3,000 yuan, official data showed.

The monthly payment for a room in a State-owned nursing home is around 1,000 yuan, according to the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau's website.

But a Beijing resident surnamed Tan, who sent his paralyzed 82-year-old mother to a State-owned nursing home, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the monthly cost can be around 6,000 yuan.

"The so-called 1,000 or 2,000 yuan monthly payment listed on the website is the room fee, but I also need to pay for meals and care workers, which may be higher than the room fee," he said.

State-owned nursing homes are more helpful than private ones because they accept seniors who cannot take care of themselves while the private ones usually refuse them, according to Tan.

In addition to rooms, the nursing home provides services including laundry, medical checkups and daily care, according to Le-amor's website.

Retirement community

Meanwhile, a more expensive option is retirement communities, which allow seniors to live in individual homes within an enclosed area.

Cherish Yearn Rest Home, a well-known retirement community in Shanghai, adopts a membership tenant system, which is said to be popular in the US.

Under the system, seniors pay a one-time membership fee and then pay a yearly fee to rent a home.

The membership fee ranges between 450,000 yuan to 1.18 million yuan, depending on the size of homes, a sales staff of Cherish Yearn told the Global Times on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

There are two kinds of membership - one can be transferred to others and inherited by offspring and the other cannot be transferred or inherited, she said, noting the second one is only valid for 15 years while the first one has no limit.

In addition to the membership fee, seniors also need to pay home rent ranging from 30,000 yuan to 70,000 yuan per year, the staff member said.

Cherish Yearn seems to have confidence in its high-end elder care community business.

In addition to the current community in which 1,200 seniors live, the company is building a new one in Shanghai and also has three similar communities being planned or under construction in other cities.

Besides communities like Cherish Yearn, traditional property developers also see the aging population as a business opportunity.

Greentown China Holdings, a real estate developer, launched a retirement community project in Wuzhen, a famous watertown near Shanghai, with the first round of 500 houses selling out, Xinhua News Agency reported on June 30.

With the huge market potential and supportive policies, China's retirement community will boom from 2014, Zhang Hongwei, research director at Shanghai-based property consultancy ToSpur, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The total value of China's senior care industry will exceed 10 trillion yuan by 2030, Beijing-based newspaper International Business Daily reported on August 5, citing data from China National Committee on Ageing.

Reverse mortgage

On July 1, the Chinese government launched a 2-year reverse mortgage pilot scheme in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan.

Reverse mortgage is a type of loan available to seniors in which they mortgage their homes to a third party, such as insurance firms, and in return get payments every month to live in a seniors' home with nursing services.

The house-for-pension plan is aimed at raising personal retirement income and easing the fiscal pressure on China's pension system.

According to the guideline released by China Insurance Regulatory Commission on June 23, the insured group should be people older than 60 and have full house ownership.

However, since the reverse mortgage pilot scheme was launched on July 1, no insurance company has yet formally introduced any related-products.

Chinese seniors have little interest in the reverse mortgage, Zhang of ToSpur said, as parents are inclined to leave their homes to their children.

In previous years, some insurance companies tried reverse mortgage programs but set high thresholds, such as limiting monthly payments to mortgagors at no more than 20,000 yuan, Zhang said, which shut the door to most seniors.

Insurance companies should have a clear view of the reverse mortgage target group, which are seniors without children or seniors who own several houses, Zhang said.

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