Medicaid for rent, food? 'Stay tuned,' HHS chief says

Allowing hospitals to pay for housing and healthy food through Medicaid are among the ideas HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the federal government is considering to improve healthcare and social services, according to a briefing this week from Kaiser Health News.

"There are a variety of reasons why the federal government takes the lead on financing healthcare, and that is not about to change. But 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 nonhealthcare needs," he said.

Mr. Azar spoke about social determinants of health at a healthcare policy symposium in Washington, D.C., hosted by Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare and the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation's Hatch Center.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is looking for ways to offer "solutions for the whole person, including addressing housing, nutrition and other social needs," Mr. Azar said.

"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? If that sounds like an exciting idea ... I want you to stay tuned to what CMMI is up to," said Mr. Azar.

 According to the briefing from Kaiser Health News, the federal government's efforts to treat the "whole person" may allow healthcare organizations to use Medicaid money to fund patients' housing and food.  


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