By Kerry Young, CQ Roll Call

May 15, 2015 -- Lawmakers should consider widening the mandate of the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, known as CMMI, to allow more work on programs that could keep people with debilitating illnesses in their homes longer, a researcher said during a recent briefing on the program's future.

"At some point, we may need to look at whether the CMMI authorizing legislation needs to be broadened a bit," said Karen Davis, director of Roger C. Lipitz Center for Integrated Health Care at Johns Hopkins University.

However, that approach would be met with resistance from congressional Republicans when funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Innovation Center comes up for renewal after fiscal 2019.

Davis was among the speakers at an Alliance for Health Reform briefing looking at the challenges ahead for Medicare, with the federal health program for the elderly and disabled now covering more than 50 million Americans. The aging of the population in the United States will lead to a rise in the number of cases of people suffering from debilitating diseases. Increasing resources available for home treatments and services and support for family caregivers might work to reduce reliance on costly nursing homes for those afflicted, she said.

"They're going to need nonmedical personal services, daycare services, to be able to continue to live independently," Davis said.

Created as part of the 2010 health law, the center was provided with $10 billion to be expended over a decade. The program, which provides competitive grants, has worked well as a means of funding tests of new approaches to delivering health care, according to Davis. She would like to see it expanded to allow more testing of services to improve the care of those suffering from debilitating diseases.

"As we really get serious about how we are going to take care of Alzheimer's patients, how we are going to take care of people with Parkinson's who can't feed themselves any more or walk safely across the room, they will need personal care services or families may be able to help out if there is senior day care," Davis said, citing approaches that could use further research.