Older Americans Act Reauthorized with Funds for Hospice Family Caregivers, Social Determinants

Though somewhat overshadowed by the COVID-19 crisis, Congress has reauthorized the Older Americans Act, which provides funds to services for seniors, including those designed to help them age in place. Some provisions of the act allocate dollars to community-based programs that provide meals, transportation and other social determinants of health, allowing seniors to remain in their homes where they later may receive hospice care.

The law, which originally passed in 1965, established the U.S. Administration of Aging, which works in concert with state agencies on aging as well as local entities. The recently passed reauthorization bill extends the funds for another five years. The revised law increases spending by 35% and includes additional programs to address social determinants of health as well as social isolation among seniors. 

“Seniors have served our communities for decades and need our support now more than ever,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), chair of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services. “Strengthening programs that benefit our seniors has long been one of my top priorities, and I’m glad this significant update I led to the Older Americans Act is now law. It will provide a strong foundation to help meet the needs of seniors during this pandemic and beyond. I’m grateful that this updated bipartisan law will support Meals on Wheels, fight elder abuse, and help to address social isolation. At this time in our country, it’s especially important that we care for those who cared for us.”  

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Among the provisions of the bill is continuation of funds for the RAISE Family Caregivers Act of 2018, which pays for programs to support families that care for ill or dying relatives in their homes.

Authorization bills establish the legal foundations and authority of federal agencies and programs and allow legislators to make appropriations for those programs. Congress must later fund the programs through an appropriations bill.

The law will also provide funds for services for Alzheimer’s patients and for the first time expands that benefit to include people younger than 60. 

The number of hospice patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s or other dementia-associated illnesses has been rising in recent years. Nearly 14% of hospice patients who were covered by Medicare during 2017 had a neurodegenerative disease as a principal diagnosis, according the the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). 

“Family caregivers for their loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia often feel overwhelmed and need additional resources, and this legislation helps them get the support they deserve,” NHPCO President and CEO Edo Banach said. “We thank Congress and the President for their leadership on supporting programs for all aging Americans.”

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