CMS approves Florida Medicaid waiver to pilot housing assistance program 

CMS will allow Florida to test a program in Medicaid that would offer greater behavioral health services and housing access to beneficiaries with severe mental illness or substance use disorder. 

In a letter (PDF), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave the OK for the Managed Medical Assistance Program pilot in two parts of Florida within certain enrollment limits as part of a Section 1115 waiver.  

Under the program, beneficiaries who are addicted to drugs or have severe behavioral health needs would have access to both pretenancy and tenancy maintenance services along with mobile crisis centers and peer support. 

“We are excited to support Florida’s efforts to pilot targeted behavioral health services for at-risk homeless individuals,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma tweeted

RELATED: CMS gives the OK to Maryland Medicaid waiver, allowing diabetes management, dental care demonstrations 

CMS says in the letter that the pilot would meet the goals of Medicaid—to “furnish medical assistance” to low-income populations—and also affirms the agency’s broader goal of providing states greater flexibility to test new approaches in their programs. 

The agency also reviewed two dozen state and federal comments on the program in making its decision. 

“We are committed to supporting states that seek to test policies that are likely to improve beneficiary health because we believe that promoting independence and improving health outcomes is in the best interests of the beneficiary and advances the fundamental objectives of the Medicaid program,” CMS wrote. 

The agency’s working definition of the “goals of Medicaid” has been a source of controversy, as it’s under the Section 1115 waiver program that CMS has also approved work requirements in eight states. 

RELATED: CMS gives thumbs up to Medicaid work requirements in Ohio 

CMS argues that work requirements meet Medicaid's goals because they promote health and a path out of poverty, while critics counter that the program is designed to provide health coverage, not move beneficiaries up the economic ladder. A federal judge ruled Wednesday night that CMS failed to consider if work requirements promote the Medicaid program's goals in its approval.

As the legal case continues to play out, CMS issued new guidance aimed at better oversight of Section 1115 demonstrations, and work requirements in particular, so it can get a better feeling for the effectiveness of these programs.