State funding cuts lead to younger nursing home population

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: March 23rd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Picture a nursing home and you probably think of a community of seniors aged seventy or older. But that may no longer be the case. According to recent studies, the fastest growing population in these homes is between the ages of thirty-one to sixty-four. In fact, the younger demographic now make up about fourteen percent of the nursing home population, up from ten percent just ten years ago.

Why the sudden increase? More states are slashing funds for home health care attendants due to budget constraints. So people who would otherwise receive care at home are now being forced into nursing homes.

The trend is worrisome for many reasons, including the fact that home health care only costs about a third of the price of keeping someone in a nursing home. However, there are several upfront costs the state must bear, including hiring aides and finding appropriate housing. States also worry that beefing up these programs will increase demand among people who now depend on relatives for care.

So, when faced with budget shortfalls, home health care services are typically among the first to be cut. The number of people on state waiting lists for home-based care is up to more than four-hundred thousand, double the number a decade ago.

The federal government has tried to protect this vulnerable population by passing laws and policies ensuring a patient’s right to receive home aide. But the regulations are only sporadically enforced. To make matters worse, while federal law requires states to pay for nursing homes, funding for community-based care is optional.

Some groups have pushed Congress to require states to pay for home health care but even advocates of the plan are skeptical it will ever pass. The estimated cost: Five billion dollars.