The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services released today a five-year strategy to address several significant housing problems. At the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, we are focusing more and more on social determinants of health with our biggest focus currently on housing. Through our work in local communities we are hearing more and more stories of individuals who cannot focus on getting the healthcare they need because of barriers to stable, affordable housing. We also know that these same individuals make up the largest cost to our healthcare system. The housing plan released by DHS today is an important step in linking health to housing. We will continue to encourage the state to look at ways to use Medicaid dollars to strengthen supportive housing services.
The strategy concentrates on those who live in institutions who could live in the community with services and supports, those who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness, and those who have extremely low incomes and are rent-burdened. Citing that 53,574 people live in nursing homes, and that community-based care costs roughly half of nursing home care, the state could save $15.7 million by transitioning just 500 individuals to independent living. Homelessness in Pennsylvania over the past four years has risen 4.65 percent, while nationally it has declined 9.35 percent, leaving 15,421 persons (including 4,272 children) without homes. Investments in permanent supportive housing for even 500 homeless Pennsylvanians could save $4.3 million per year in reduced healthcare costs ($8,606/person). Lastly, noting that 46.6 percent of Pennsylvanians lack affordable housing.
The department will pursue four strategies:
- Expand access and create new, affordable, integrated, and supportive housing opportunities.
- Strengthen and expand housing-related services and supports.
- Assess new and existing programs to determine future needs and measure outcomes.
- Promote teamwork and community in both state and local government to develop housing opportunities for all populations served by DHS.
The department highlights its work on implementing the Community Health Choices managed care program starting in January 2017 for individuals with disabilities and low income seniors who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid as a key example of how these strategies will improve the quality of life for individuals in Pennsylvania. The new managed care organizations will identify individualized housing needs and they will be incentivized to meet those needs through transitions to community based-care. The department also intends to target those in the criminal justice system with serious mental illness and/or substance use disorder, developing a referral system and transition plans to appropriate community-based housing.
To enhance the level of services available to those who are chronically homeless, the department will maximize Medicaid funding for housing-related services and supports. This echoes the June 2015 encouragement of states to reduce costs by enhancing supportive housing services from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services.
In the upcoming weeks PHAN along with its partners at the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Health Law Project and Project HOME will be officially launching our Housing as Healthcare Campaign. To learn more and take our campaign survey visit www.housingashealth.org.