Tuesday 21 March 2023

California Asks Biden Administration To Cover Six Months Of ‘Transitional Rent’ For Homeless With Medicaid

 California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to use federal healthcare funds to cover at least six months of rent for the state’s disproportionately large homeless population and for those on the brink of losing their housing.

Newsom recently asked President Biden to approve a new program called “transitional rent” under Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. According to The Los Angeles Times, state officials modeled the program after similar federally approved programs in Oregon and Arizona that would pay up to six months of rent or temporary housing for low-income enrollees who rely on the state’s healthcare.

“I’ve been talking to the president,” Newsom told KHN. “We cannot do this alone.”

Newsom and proponents of the aid argue temporarily covering rent for homeless people would save taxpayers money rather than paying more into California’s institutional care in hospitals, nursing homes, and jails.

Bruce Alexander, a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokesperson, declined to disclose to The Times whether the federal government would approve the request.

The National Academy for State Health Policy writes Medicaid cannot directly pay for housing development or rent. However, it can support services for enrollees to find and sustain housing.

The state’s program has already helped low-income patients with rental security deposits for homeless people and those facing eviction through a federally approved program called CalAIM, which The Times reported has transformed Medi-Cal.

Homelessness in California continues to grow, leading the nation with the largest population for over a decade, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Last year, the think tank estimated 30% of the 233,832 people in the United States experiencing homelessness live in California based on the federal government’s imperfect “Point in Time” count on the nation’s homeless population. However, Newsom admitted those numbers likely don’t reflect the state’s official count, acknowledging it is much higher than tallied.

Researchers at the institute reported state data indicating that 5% of Medi-Cal patients account for 44% of the program’s spending. Many patients experience some form of homelessness and frequently visit emergency rooms, covered mainly by the state health program.

“California emergency departments (EDs) treated about 143,000 people experiencing homelessness in 2019, according to hospital discharge records,” the report reads. “Almost half of homeless patients visited the ED four or more times in the year.”

Insurers argue mixing healthcare funds with housing would not save the state money, while healthcare officials point to California’s affordable housing crisis as another significant issue, which Newsom has publicly acknowledged.

“We can design incredible Medicaid policies to alleviate homelessness and pay for all the necessary supportive services, but without the adequate housing, frankly, it’s not going to work,” Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the University of California-San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable, told The Times.

If authorized by the Biden administration, homeless people who qualify for the limited aid in California could begin receiving rent payments by 2025, eventually costing the state approximately $117 million annually after it’s up and running.

According to The Times, 11,000 people have already enrolled in Medi-Cal housing services.

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