Health Care, Housing Collaboration Key to Aging in Place

Today’s rapidly growing senior population faces significant challenges, ranging from a lack of retirement funds and a shortage of affordable housing to homes ill-equipped for aging in place. Confronting these challenges for older citizens should be mission critical, even if it will likely require additional public spending, according to a report issued this month by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Senior Health and Housing Task Force.

In the report, titled “Healthy Aging Begins at Home,” the task force emphasizes the benefits of home health care, as well as the importance of integrating the nation’s health care and housing systems “to help manage chronic disease, improve health outcomes for seniors and enable millions of Americans to age successfully in their own homes.” Members of the task force are Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Mel Martinez, former HUD secretary and past U.S. senator; Allyson Y. Schwartz, former U.S. representative; and Vin Weber, past U.S. representative.

The report consists of actionable recommendations developed over the last year to foster a comprehensive national effort to boost the supply of affordable seniors housing and further encourage the connection between housing and health care.

“The aging of America will present tremendous challenges that will affect virtually every sector of society; it will place added pressure on already strained household and public budgets,” the task force writes. “But with these challenges also comes a great opportunity: the chance to enhance the quality of life for Americans, regardless of age, who stand to benefit from a healthier and more engaged senior population.”

Recommendations outlined in the report seek to address the following:

1. Building more affordable housing for seniors: Mortgage payments, property taxes and other housing-related costs tend to be seniors’ biggest household expenditures, according to the report.

As such, the task force provided several proposals in an effort to promote a national effort to increase affordable housing for seniors. These involve taking action to prevent and end homelessness among older adults; funding rental assistance programs for low-income seniors; and considering permissive land-use policies to allow for and encourage alternative housing structures for seniors, among others.

2. Transforming homes and communities to facilitate aging in place: More seniors today indicate a desire to age in place, but their finances might prevent them from doing so.

“In light of these difficult conditions, new solutions will be necessary—solutions that expand the range of housing options and that accommodate a variety of needs and preferences as individuals age,” the report states.

Solutions offered up by the task force incorporate programs to help low-income seniors with home modifications through the likes of property tax credits or grants; assessments of community living models to determine how they might be replicated elsewhere and for different socioeconomic sectors of the population; and the development of a one-stop platform for door-to-door transportation services.

3. Integrating health care and supportive services with housing: The potential for seniors to receive health and wellness care at home is increasing, according to the report, as is home care’s role in chronic care management.

That means models that deliver health care and other services to seniors in their own homes could improve health outcomes and reduce health care utilization and costs. Therein lies policy opportunities to speed up the connection between health care and housing. Some examples from the task force are hospitals questioning about housing as part of discharge planning, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) doing the same in health risk assessments; Medicaid collecting data on state coverage of housing-related activities and services; and Congress and the administration expanding certain programs to reduce health care costs and support Medicare long-term care systems.

4. Deploying technology to help Americans age successfully: It’s no secret that technology has revolutionized the administration of health care, and older adults and caregivers alike benefit.

Telehealth and electronic health records aide medical officials, while fall monitoring systems and social networking apps help seniors age in place. Still, barriers exist that prevent higher levels of adoption, like costs of technology, ease of use and limited internet access, especially in rural areas.

The task force suggests combatting these barriers through greater reimbursement from CMS and states for telehealth and other similar technologies; increasing the availability of broadband to keep seniors connected; and demonstrating the perks on internet access for low-income seniors, along with the effectiveness of health technologies.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt