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Health News Florida

Medicaid Program Helps Mentally Ill, Substance Abusers Find Housing

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew stands at a podium
Julio Ochoa
/
WUSF Public Media
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew announces the launch of a Medicaid pilot program that will help people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse disorder find housing.

Floridians suffering from substance abuse disorder or mental illness will have access to housing support in six counties when a Medicaid pilot program begins next month.

The program, run through the state’s Medicaid managed care system and administered by the Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, received approval from the federal government in April through the Medicaid waiver system.

That means it will be supported with federal and state funds. The Florida Legislature set aside $10 million a year for the program.

As many as 4,000 individuals could benefit from the pilot which will help people find and keep housing in Pinellas, Pasco, Seminole, Orange, Osceola and Brevard counties.

“While Medicaid can’t pay for rent, we can pay for, through this pilot, supportive housing services – whether that’s case management, peer support services,” said AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew. “Supports that will help an individual be successful as a tenant so that they can better manage their illness and see better health care outcomes.”

The private insurance companies that administer the state’s Medicaid managed care program will partner with local organizations that serve the homeless and at-risk communities to identify people who qualify.

On Thursday, Mayhew visited one of those organizations – the Daystar Life Center in south St. Petersburg – to announce the launch. 

“Together we’re bridging that gap and making sure that those social determinants (of health) are being addressed so we can see far better outcomes for those individuals,” Mayhew said.

The program will provide transitional housing services for participants to help them find and relocate into permanent housing - and it will help with moving expenses.

Once participants have housing, there will be counselors in place to help them keep it. Crisis management will provide immediate, on-site help when issues arise. The program will also provide self-help and peer support for substance abuse disorder and severe mental illness.

Sen. Darryl Rouson represents District 19 in south St. Petersburg, which contains the largest area of poverty in Pinellas County. During the press conference, he spoke about his personal experience with addiction and homelessness.

“The encouragement that this program, this pilot, and Daystar working with it will give to those who are seated in the lobby a few feet from us is phenomenal,” Rouson said.  “Someone needs to stand up for us. Why not us?”

Florida’s Medicaid managed care system and other efforts by the state to receive approval for waivers from the federal government have faced resistance from Democrats like Rouson in the past.

Last year, a waiver allowed the state to cut the time that patients have to apply for Medicaid once they visit a provider from 90 days to less than a month.

But Rouson said this waiver is worthwhile.

“Waivers have not been popular but it’s been a way to get some things accomplished,” he said. “I wish this would be more permanent but this will give us a chance to see if it works.”

Four health plans – Aetna, Magellan, Simply and Staywell – will participate in the program.

Staywell has already identified 400 people who are eligible for the pilot program, said Liz Miller, Florida president for WellCare, which operates Staywell.

“We’re doing something here in Florida that we haven’t seen done in any other states,” Miller said. “I have peers in my company that work in other states that are really watching closely what we’re doing here.”