Editor’s Note: The following column is Part I of a two-part series. Check out Part II in the May issue.
Would you give your home a grade A for Accessible? For many seniors aging in place and people who use mobility equipment, the answer is likely no. The truth about home access is that many homes require thousands of dollars in home modifications to make the grade. But just who will foot the bill?
For the 83 percent of older Americans who want to stay in their current homes for the rest of their lives, according to the AARP, a broad range of modifications will need to be made, from inexpensive grab bars to costly kitchen remodels.
For wheelchair users, adequate passage is a big issue and requires some hefty work to make maneuvering a possibility.
The first step to home accessibility, says the AARP, is getting a prescription of medical necessity from a doctor or physical therapist. That first step could determine eligibility for many federally or state-funded assistance programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Medicaid recipients may qualify for certain home modifications under a Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waiver. Check your state’s plan to see what items are covered. A local Social Security office can outline what items are covered by Medicare.
The trick to getting public funds is knowing the resources. Local Centers for Independent Living offer referral services. Veterans or spouses of veterans should check the Department of Veterans Affairs. Habitat for Humanity also provides a remodeling program with volunteer labor to construct a ramp if materials are provided.
If you plan to fund modifications yourself, get an accurate estimate of what the work will cost. For example, Nathan Colburn, VP of Accessible Systems, Littleton, Colo., says an average bathroom remodel costs $5,000-7,000 but could easily jump well over $10,000.
Don’t forget Uncle Sam. Accessibility modifications may be tax deductible as medical expenses or as impairment-related work expenses. Possible tax-deductible modifications include outside ramps, widened doorways and warning systems, according to the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, Arlington.
Private health insurances also cover some costs. It doesn’t hurt to ask. A denial letter from an insurance company can go a long way with other sources.
If immediate repairs are needed and saving is not an option, consider loans such as a home equity conversion, deferred payment loans, reverse mortgages, sale/leasebacks and life estates. Montana’s Technology-Related Assistance Program for People with Disabilities, in Missoula, says low-interest loans are available to those who qualify for home modifications and adaptive equipment.
Sometimes combining both personal and public funds is necessary to get the job done.
AARP Home Equity Information Center
Department of Veterans Affairs
Federal National Mortgage Association
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
National Center for Home Equity Conversion (NCHEC)
National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development