Medicaid’s prescription for health includes food and housing in some states

  • Date: 02/12/2024

A pillar of the nation’s social safety net since the 1960s, Medicaid is the largest public source of health insurance. Now, it is becoming something more.

A growing number of states are broadening the health-coverage program into a hub for fulfilling social needs: helping with housing and transportation, easing past prison life and domestic violence, and providing the cardboard boxes filled with canned goods and perishables that Nichols and his crew deliver in two counties of southeastern North Carolina.

With the encouragement of the Biden administration, Medicaid is threading health-related social needs into the program. Because Medicaid is a joint responsibility of the federal government and states, each project stepping into such new territory requires federal approval. Since President Biden took office three years ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved these experiments in eight states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington.

An additional nine states have applied, and three others — California and Massachusetts, as well as North Carolina — are asking to update projects they have begun.

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