HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday said Medicaid may soon allow hospitals and health systems to directly pay for housing, healthy food or other solutions for the “whole person.”
In a speech supported by the Hatch Foundation for Civility and Solutions and Intermountain Healthcare in Washington, Azar said Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation officials are looking to move beyond existing efforts to partner with social services groups and try to manage social determinants of health as they see appropriate.
“What if we gave organizations more flexibility so they could pay a beneficiary’s rent if they were in unstable housing, or make sure that a diabetic had access to, and could afford, nutritious food?” Azar said in his prepared remarks. “If that sounds like an exciting idea … I want you to stay tuned to what CMMI is up to.”
HHS spends over $1 trillion a year on healthcare for seniors and low-income people through Medicare and Medicaid, which far outstrips spending on other federal programs, Azar said.
“We believe we could spend less money on healthcare—and, most important, help Americans live healthier lives—if we did a better job of aligning federal health investments with our investments in non-healthcare needs,” he said.Azar didn’t elaborate on when the model would be launched, but the program could help Medicaid enrollees who need housing.
Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson said Azar’s comments were an example of how the conversation was going in the right direction in terms of how healthcare providers should think about social determinants as part of the whole healthcare ecosystem. But without knowing more of the plan’s details, Tyson said the move will likely come through a public-private partnership.
“There’s a balancing act that we all have to think about because somebody has to pay for it,” Tyson said. “But the fact that you’re starting to hear that this should be in our discussion inside of the healthcare arena I think is healthy.”