The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Senior Health and Housing Task Force is calling for a greater integration of the nation’s housing and health-care systems to improve health outcomes, reduce costs, and enable millions of seniors to age safely in their own homes and communities.
Within the next 15 years, the U.S. senior population is expected to increase dramatically. Seniors 65 years and older will comprise more than 20% of the nation’s population, up from 14% today. Seniors 85 and older comprise the fastest-growing demographic group.
In response to this explosive growth and the strains it will place on the nation, the task force, co-chaired by former Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary Henry Cisneros, former senator and HUD secretary Mel Martinez, and former representatives Vin Weber and Allyson Schwartz, released Monday its Healthy Aging Begins at Home report, which was developed over the past year with help from an expert advisory council.
“Public policy has failed to keep pace with America’s changing demographics,” said Cisneros. “Without a comprehensive national approach to integrating health care and housing, far too many seniors will face undue health, home, and financial stresses during their most vulnerable years.”
The report calls for a much higher level of focus and preparation than currently exists as well as collaboration from different sectors, such as housing, health care, transportation, telecommunications, and financial services.
Recommendations focus on four key areas: the need for more affordable housing for seniors, the importance of transforming homes and communities so seniors have options, the integration of health care and supportive services with housing, and the widespread adoption of health technologies to support successful aging.
The recommendations serve as a call to action for Congress, the administration, public officials, the private sector, nonprofits, and philanthropies.
On the housing side, the nation is in an affordability crisis with a shortage of affordable rental homes. As the low-income senior population grows and seniors move from homeownership to rental housing, this shortage will continue to intensify if additional measures are not taken.
To increase the affordable housing supply for seniors, the task force proposes a comprehensive national effort, which includes a significant expansion of the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) and a new federal program for senior supportive housing that uses project-based rental assistance and LIHTCs to finance new construction and attract health-care program funding.
“Affordable housing is the glue that holds everything together,” said Martinez. “Without access to affordable housing and the stability it provides, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide home and community-based services that can enable successful aging.”
It also recommends that a major national priority must be preventing and ending senior homelessness. It calls for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to adopt a goal to prevent and end homelessness for this demographic.
For seniors who want to remain in their homes, the task force recommends a new Modification Assistance Initiative under the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure existing resources for home assessments and modifications are better utilized.
States and communities are urged to adopt land-use policies to promote a range of affordable housing options for seniors as well as establish and expand home-modification programs for low-income seniors.
Health outcomes and reducing health-care costs also are addressed in the report. The task force proposes an initiative to coordinate care for seniors in publicly assisted housing and scaling an existing demonstration coordinating care at home for frail seniors.
It also calls for Medicare and other federal programs to make reducing falls among seniors a top priority as well as the reimbursement for remote patient monitoring services and fall monitoring systems, which can benefit older adults and their caregivers.
“Our report is a call to action to the health-care community, including hospitals, health-care professionals, and public and private insurers,” said Schwartz. “Health-care leaders must work to accelerate the integration of health care and housing. The well-being and safety of millions of Americans are at stake.”