Revitalize & Reauthorize: Strengthening the Older Americans Act

The Older Americans Act, established in 1965 as a source of federal funding for services to support older adults’ independence, is up for reauthorization. Aging services advocates think this is a great opportunity to strengthen and modernize the act.

Programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are most often used to treat conditions that older adults develop, but programs under the Older Americans Act have the potential to prevent or postpone these conditions. A growing amount of research has established the importance of addressing social and behavioral determinants of health, such as one’s social network, neighborhood and physical environment, or engagement in healthy (or risky) behaviors, and the Department of Health and Human Services has even suggested that federal health-care spending can be reduced with greater investment in non-health care related needs. In fact, older adults living in states that spend more on social programs tend to have better health outcomes than in other states.

The current spending for Medicare is $10,739 per capita, compared to just $38 for the Older Americans Act. The authors of a recent Public Policy & Aging Report article argue for enhancing funding for research and evaluation of services that address social and behavioral determinants of health, as well as identifying the amount of cost-saving potential these programs offer. The overall goal is to foster innovation and provide evidence that services under this act significantly improve older adults’ quality of life.

Specifically, the authors propose using models that have already proven successful in order to strengthen the Older Americans Act. These include the Aging Network Support Activities program, which supports development of performance measures and identifying best practices for innovative programs. Additionally, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation evaluates models that enhance quality of care while reducing cost.

Authorization for the Older Americans Act is set to expire September 30, 2019, although programs can still receive funding after that deadline. Strengthening this act has the potential to improve care for the growing number of older adults and reduce overall health-care spending.

 

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Source:

Firman J, Bedlin H, Phillips M, and Hodges J. Strengthening innovations in aging services through the next reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. Public Policy & Aging Report (2019); 29(2): 73-76.

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