HUD Event Focuses on Homelessness and Health Care

On February 11, the White House hosted a meeting organized by HUD with homelessness and affordable housing stakeholders from across the country to discuss efforts to enroll low-income Americans in health care coverage that is now available because of the Affordable Care Act. Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, urged the participants to do what is right for the individuals and families who live in affordable housing or who face nights without a roof over their head.

“As the President has said, the great challenge of our time is fulfilling the basic American promise that every person should get a fair shot and the opportunity to thrive,” said Secretary Donovan. “That means every American deserves an affordable home in a safe neighborhood. It also means every American deserves access to quality, affordable health care you can depend on because no one should have to choose between paying the rent or paying their medical bills.”

He told the story of a 63-year old woman from Tampa, who had been unable to afford insurance for years, but with the help of a Health Care Navigator, she managed the application process and found that she could get coverage for $35 a month. She wept when she discovered she could get treatment again, Secretary Donovan said.

Mary Wakefield, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), discussed new ways that the Affordable Care Act is benefiting low-income households living in Federally assisted housing and people experiencing homelessness.  First, the Affordable Care Act has increased funding for community health centers, which are often the primary source of health care for people living in public housing and other federally assisted housing.  The second way is by funding programs that specifically reach people experiencing homelessness, such as Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, school-based health centers, and clinics.

Catherine Oakar, Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at HHS helped paint the picture of the full range of coverage benefits available to all income levels, including an explanation of the challenges faced by residents of states who have not yet opted to expand Medicaid.

Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor for Housing and Services at HUD encouraged attendees to take action to ensure that everyone in their community who wants affordable health care coverage gets covered. She reminded the audience that having access to health care is key in preventing and ending homelessness, increases the likelihood that people can stay in their homes and afford both their health care and their rent or mortgage, and is a move-up strategy for residents of affordable housing.

USICH Policy Director Richard Cho, who presented on a panel at the event said, “The Affordable Care Act was a huge gift to the Federal effort to end homelessness, providing the possibility that nearly all people experiencing homelessness could get access to health coverage and life-saving health care. It holds tremendous promise for the integration of health and housing, where the health care system attends to housing needs and where States can use Medicaid to pay for services that can help support housing stability.”

The first step to realizing this promise, he added, is to ensure that as many people can get covered by Medicaid and health insurance as possible.

At the end of the event, the participants identified a concrete action they could implement in their communities. Those actions included adding intake questions about health care coverage and connecting housing developments with certified application counselors in their community.

For more information about how you can help get your community covered, email housingandservices@hud.gov