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Some Medicaid recipients will soon get help with food and shelter

Healthy Opportunities Pilot Project
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
Healthy Opportunities Pilot Project

As many as 13,000 to 20,000 Medicaid recipients could soon get help with food and shelter each month. On March 15, North Carolina will launch the Healthy Opportunities Pilot, a $650 million experiment to test whether the government should spend health care money to address social problems to improve health.

“Nobody has done this before,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, the state’s chief medical officer. "We’re trying to buy health, not access to health care," she told a virtual audience organized by Impact Health, which will run the pilot in western North Carolina.

The pilot project will help selected patients obtain food, housing and transportation, and assist those who are victims of domestic violence. Things like food and housing are responsible for 80% of a person’s health data shows, so they’re called social determinants of health.

Medicaid managed care plans will choose which patients will be eligible for extra help. Recipients must have at least one medical condition and at least one “social risk factor.” They also have to live within one of the 33 counties covered by a pilot project. No pilot projects will operate in Mecklenburg County, but residents of Rutherford, Burke and Polk counties will be part of the western North Carolina pilot area which stretches to the Tennessee border.

Food assistance will become available on March 15. Housing and transportation assistance will start to roll out help on May 1. And on June 15, victims of domestic violence can begin receiving help.

The project will collect data to demonstrate the impact of these services on overall health. Tilson hopes it will be a model for future Medicaid funding in North Carolina and throughout the country. “All eyes are on North Carolina.”

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Dana Miller Ervin is a reporter at WFAE, examining the U.S. health care system.