Amanda Brewster links Area Agencies on Aging with reduced healthcare spending

Partnerships between Area Agencies on Aging and healthcare organizations reduce both healthcare use and spending for older adults, according to a study published this week in Health Affairs.

The research team, led by Amanda Brewster, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Berkeley Public Health, analyzed nationwide survey data from 2008 to 2013 to determine the effects of partnerships between healthcare organizations and Area Agencies on Aging. The results showed that these partnerships have reduced both healthcare use and Medicare spending by an annual average of $136 per beneficiary, while decreasing avoidable nursing home use.

Brewster and her team also published a post on the Health Affairs blog this week, putting their research in the context of the current public health crisis.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the critical importance of community services to support health and social care for aging populations,” they wrote. “With unprecedented challenges facing both health and social care providers, it is more important now than ever to leverage capacity in every part of every organization that contributes to caring for population health.”

Established over fifty years ago, Area Agencies on Aging are set up with partial funding from the federal government to provide nutrition services, transportation, in-home supports, and other social services to help older adults maintain independence in their communities. There are over 600 Area Agencies on Aging active in every region in the country.. Some work within local governments, while others operate as nonprofit organizations.

These agencies are increasingly partnering with healthcare providers to support enrollees in Medicaid managed care programs or other older adults with certain health risks. This study is the first to analyze those partnerships and their link to reduced healthcare use and spending for older adults.

“As hospitals, healthcare providers, and policy makers search for opportunities to improve health for high-cost, high-need populations such as older adults with multiple chronic conditions, our finding…suggests that AAAs should be considered a key ally for health organizations,” conclude the study authors.

Led by Brewster, the research team consisted of Jennifer Frehn, a doctoral candidate at Berkeley Public Health, as well as researchers from Miami University and Pennsylvania State University. The research was supported by The Commonwealth Fund, and its results were presented last summer at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Washington, D.C.

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