CMS okays Medicaid money for housing

The Obama administration has signed off on the use of Medicaid funds to house enrollees, possibly creating a path that would not only bring down the homeless population but also cut down on hospital costs.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved the use of money typically used for clinical services for housing and housing-assistance services last June. Although states will have to apply to use such funds through a Medicaid waiver, CMS is expected to have a fairly welcoming attitude toward such waivers,  according to StateLine.

"The more we can offset supportive services through Medicaid, the more we can reallocate (federal housing) dollars and private dollars to rent more units," Ed Stellon, interim director of Heartland Health Outreach, a nonprofit focused on helping the poor access healthcare in the Midwest, told StateLine. "If I can pay for even one of the case managers through Medicaid, I might be able to pay rent for a dozen units and expand the number of people with housing with existing resources."

Housing the homeless can actually have a direct impact on hospital costs, as WFTV-TV reported that last year. Just 100 homeless patients who required frequent emergency room visits cost Florida Hospital $15 million. Some patients interviewed by the television station said having regular shelter would ensure they require less intensive healthcare services.

Hospitals have tried grappling with so-called frequent fliers. One provider in Wisconsin has resorted to social workers, while cities such as Reno, Nevada, have retrained paramedics and other first responders to deal with such patients.

However, some others say the behavior of many homeless won't change even if they obtain housing, primarily due to mental health and substance abuse issues.

"They are going to do the same thing when they are in housing, whether they are in a shelter or on the street," Orlando Rescue Mission Volunteer David Buckler told WFTV. "They will do it wherever they are living."

To learn more:
- here's the CMS announcement (.pdf)
- read the StateLine article
- check out the WFTV story