Pipes: Medicaid is for health care, not housing

Title: The Expansion of Medicaid’s Scope: A Critical Examination of Health Insurers Investing in Housing

The author expresses concerns about the increasing expansion of Medicaid’s scope beyond its original purpose of providing healthcare for low-income and disabled Americans. Recently, there has been a trend for Medicaid to fund additional benefits such as meal deliveries, rent, and even affordable housing. This trend is being driven by the argument that these benefits influence health status positively.

Health insurers like Centene and UnitedHealth Group are investing billions in the construction of new apartments and homes, with Centene announcing an investment of around $900 million in new housing across eight states. UnitedHealth Group has already invested over $1 billion in affordable housing projects, and other insurers are following suit. While these companies have every right to invest where they choose, the author argues against the use of taxpayer funds to finance these returns.

Medicaid’s history shows a pattern of paying for things it shouldn’t. States have broad discretion to tailor their Medicaid programs to cover additional benefits, often citing social determinants of health, which include access to nutritious food, affordable housing, quality education, and opportunities for meaningful employment. The Biden administration has been a proponent of this approach, urging state Medicaid programs to address social determinants of health.

However, the author warns against diverting scarce dollars from Medicaid’s original healthcare mandate to pay for people’s rent. The program already struggles to fulfill its original healthcare mandate, and policymakers should focus on limiting its scope rather than expanding it. The author suggests that Medicaid’s expenditures have grown significantly over the years, reaching over $800 billion in 2022, with more than seven in ten dollars coming from the federal government.

The author, Sally C. Pipes, is the President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All.”

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