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Aging Policy in Perspective

by Dawn Simonson, Executive Director, Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging and Board Member, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Today’s troubling economy makes it more important than ever that communities work to mitigate the impact of the rapidly aging baby boomers. The economic downturn gives added urgency to implementing policies and encouraging community actions that help older people live at home for as long as possible and reduce the costs of long-term care. Efforts such as Communities for a Lifetime and a proposed national policy agenda called Project 2020 are two ways that policymakers are addressing these concerns.

Strategies that draw upon the entire community to integrate planning for the social, health and economic well-being of individuals with planning for the physical infrastructure are gaining traction. These efforts go by a number of different names, including Communities for a Lifetime and Livable Communities for all Ages. The availability of appropriate housing and transportation, elder-friendly land-use regulations, and supportive social structures make it much more likely that older adults can live independently. Many of these initiatives can tap into the knowledge and skills of the 1.5 million baby boomers in Minnesota to help set vision, develop plans, and implement solutions.

The National Association of State Units on Aging (NASUA) and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) have teamed up to develop a 2009 national legislative proposal called Project 2020. This project would enable older adults to make informed decisions, manage their health risks, and stay in their communities as long as possible. Implementing the strategies in the project would generate substantial savings in costs for Medicaid and Medicare. The Project 2020 initiative includes these components:

  • Person-centered access to information. Many individuals find it difficult to obtain information about options for community-based care. This lack of easily accessible, quality information contributes significantly to overuse of institutional care. Project 2020 promotes streamlined information and assistance system that provide reliable information to help consumers make informed decisions about long-term services and supports.
  • Evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion. Modern medical and behavioral science has identified a wide range of practices that promote health and prevent disease, thereby improving the well-being of older adults. Making this knowledge readily available would allow individuals and service providers to address areas such as fall prevention, physical activity, nutrition, management of chronic diseases, and medication management at home or in the community, often without expensive medical equipment or settings.
  • Enhanced nursing home diversion services. When an older adult faces a medical or social emergency, he or she often becomes at high risk for expensive institutional care. With proper screening and targeted care coordination, service providers can address many needs with less expensive home- and community-based services. Home-delivered meals, homemaker services, personal care, transportation, home modification, assistive technology, and adult day care can help these adults stay in their homes and in their communities and still get the services they need.

Project 2020 has the potential to reach over 40 million Americans and to reduce costs for federal Medicaid and Medicare by approximately $2.7 billion over the first five years. The project is requesting funding of $2.4 billion resulting in a net savings to the federal government of $300 million in the first five years and increasing savings over the next five.

Communities for a Lifetime planning initiatives and the proposed Project 2020 are just two ways that communities and policymakers are starting to address the aging population. Both offer real promise for helping older adults to age gracefully in their communities.

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