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KPCC: L.A. Care Wades into Homelessness Problem

Friday, April 21, 2017

Insurance provider wades into LA's homelessness problem
By Rina Palta

As part of a growing movement that looks at stable housing as a health issue, a local insurance provider is wading into Los Angeles' efforts to end homelessness. 

L.A. Care, the county's largest MediCal health plan, announced Thursday it will donate $20 million over the next five years to a program that houses homeless people who have medical issues.

"The research is showing that if people don't have basic needs like food and shelter, their health-care expenses are going to be higher because you can't really get them into a routine of health prevention or consistent treatments of conditions they might have," said L.A. Care CEO John Baackes. 

The money is expected to help the nonprofit Brilliant Corners house about 300 people through L.A. County's Housing for Health program. That program, started in 2013, identifies homeless persons who are frequent users of county emergency rooms and other high-cost medical services, and through nonprofits like Brilliant Corners helps them move into an apartment and pays part of their rent.

The county's Department of Health Services has invested its own money into the program over the past few years, betting that by housing these high-cost clients it will save money in the long run. Health Agency Director Mitch Katz said in a statement that L.A. Care's contribution will provide critical assistance to L.A.'s homeless persons. 

“I truly applaud L.A. Care’s recognition of the importance of stable housing as a necessary component of improved health," Katz said.

The view that stable housing and other poverty issues have a big impact on health is gaining greater acceptance in the U.S., and some of the biggest strides in linking the issues have come in Los Angeles.

Part of that effort has been through Housing for Health. In late 2016, California also announced a $1.5 billion five-year pilot program through MediCal. It targets people who use a lot of high-cost health services, but have poor health, and provides services such as social workers or case managers that normally aren't included in health plans. 

L.A.'s "Whole Person Care" pilot targets people who are homeless, involved in the justice system, or who have severe mental health, substance abuse or medical issues.

"L.A. has been, frankly, visionary when figuring out ways to use health-care dollars to create supportive housing opportunities for some of their most vulnerable patients," said William Pickel, CEO of Brilliant Corners, which is headquartered in San Francisco. 

L.A. Care's grant, he said, will allow the nonprofit to expand its work through the program, and will provide a way to build momentum towards more public and private health system investment in homelessness.

"To continue to show that this is a best practice," he said. "That the outcomes on both the health-care and housing side are measurable and substantial."