New effort launched to help seniors with housing, healthcare

A new bipartisan initiative launched on Monday will take the next year to develop policies aimed at improving seniors' living situations while reducing healthcare costs.  

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Health and Housing Task Force is trying to bridge the gap between housing and healthcare for the nation’s aging population, especially for those who want to stay in their homes.

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The four-member task force — former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, former Sen. and HUD Secretary Mel Martinez and former Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Vin Weber (R-Minn.) — argue that the country faces some serious questions about how to best provide services for seniors. 

“Our aim is to call attention to this emerging challenge facing our nation,” Cisneros said. 

“This challenge offers incredible opportunity in the near-term, yet is on track to become a major crisis in the coming years if left unaddressed,” he said. 

There is broad agreement that the United States is unprepared to handle the needs of its older population, an effort made even more difficult by tight budgets and other constraints, they said. 

“With fewer workers supporting more retirees, government budgets and social service delivery systems will be severely tested,” Martinez said. 

“That’s why our task force is seeking solutions ahead of the curve,” he said. 

The group expects to produce specific policy recommendations for both Congress and the Obama administration during the first quarter of 2016.

Cisneros said they want to look at all the ways seniors live as they age — from living alone to moving into assisted-living — in an effort to “keep people as healthy as possible for as long as we can.”

“The problem is real,” he said during a call with reporters. 

By 2030, 73 million Americans will be 65 and older while nearly 9 million will be 85 and older. 

Meanwhile, 70 percent of those who reach 65 will require long-term services and support, including help tasks like cooking and taking medications, they said. 

Surveys show an overwhelming number of seniors — upward of 95 percent in some polls — want to age in their own homes despite the challenges of independent living.

Weber, who recently moved his 86-year-old mother into an assisted living facility, said the issue “touches just about every area of federal government.” 

One of the task force’s goals is to improve collaboration between the Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services departments.

As part of its goals, the task force is looking at finding funding sources for seniors to modify their homes and communities to make their environments safer. 

They also will look at models that are working in states and try to replicate them in other areas of need. 

“The task force will examine models of care at the state and local levels that successfully combine housing, health and long-term services and supports,” Weber said. 

The group also wants to identify barriers to home- and community-based services and supports through Medicaid.

“In 2011, only about half of Medicaid-covered long-term services and supports were provided at home or in the community, even though for most seniors, home and community-based care is preferred and often significantly less expensive,” Schwartz said. 

“We intend to find efficiencies to make aging in place both possible and affordable.”