A Primer on How to Use Medicaid to Assist Persons Who are Homeless to Access Medical, Behavioral Health, and Support Services

Each year, one percent or more of the nation’s population experiences homelessness. An estimated 842,000 people are homeless in any given week. Of these, 66% are single adults and 34% are members of a homeless family (23% of homeless people are children). Homelessness has many underlying causes, ranging from economic crises that dislocate individuals and families to the debilitating effects of chronic (and, frequently, co-occurring) disorders such as serious mental illness, substance abuse, and severe chronic health conditions that, when untreated, prevent people from leading stable, productive lives in the community. Medicaid is a major federal-state program that can play an important role in assisting people who experience homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. But, the program is very complex and, therefore, often difficult to understand. One source of the program’s complexity is that federal Medicaid policy never stands still. Over the years, there have been many changes that have altered both who may receive Medicaid benefits and the types of benefits that states may offer. A second major source of Medicaid’s complexity is that states have considerable latitude in shaping their Medicaid programs, both with respect to who is eligible for Medicaid and the benefits that a state furnishes. As a result, there are major differences among Medicaid programs state to - state. (Author)

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