Medicaid Waivers and Tenancy Supports for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness: Implementation Challenges in Four States
Publication Date: 09/11/2021
Policy Points Medicaid policymakers have a growing interest in addressing homelessness as a social determinant of health and driver of the potentially avoidable use of expensive medical services. Drawing on extensive document reviews and in-depth interviews in four early-adopter states, we examined the implementation of Medicaid’s Section 1115 demonstration waivers to test strategies to finance tenancy support services for persons experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Context: The Affordable Care Act extended Medicaid eligibility to large numbers of individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness. This legislative development and the growing recognition of homelessness as a significant social determinant of health have encouraged advocates and policymakers to seek new ways to use Medicaid to provide housing supports. Methods: We conducted 28 semistructured interviews with 36 stakeholders in four states. The stakeholders were government administrators, health care providers, nonprofit housing staff, and consultants. We supplemented these interviews with extensive reviews of public documents, media accounts, think-tank reports, and published literature. We also conducted a systematic inductive qualitative analysis. Findings: We identified seven challenges to the successful implementation of tenancy support demonstration projects: resolving the housing supply and NIMBY, removing silos between health care and homeless services providers, enrolling and retaining the target populations in Medicaid, contracting with and paying tenancy support providers, recruiting and retaining key workers, ensuring Medicaid’s waiver durability, and reducing administrative crowd-out and waiver burden. Conclusions: Notwithstanding these challenges, three of the four states have made significant progress in launching their initiatives. At this point, the fourth state has delayed its start-up to consider alternatives to a Medicaid demonstration waiver to provide tenancy supports. The experience of the four states suggests lessons for Medicaid officials in other jurisdictions that are interested in pursuing tenancy support initiatives. Nevertheless, the limitations of tenancy support waiver programs suggest that federal policymakers should consider allowing states to more directly subsidize housing costs for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness as an optional Medicaid benefit.