Medicaid Can Fight Poverty by Reducing Evictions

September 3, 2019 @ 8:03 pm

Professor Heidi Allen and her colleagues estimate that for every 1000 low-income enrollees in California’s Medicaid expansion there were 22 fewer housing evictions.

The Columbia School of Social Work is familiar with the work of Matthew Desmond, who gave the 2018 Austin Lecture on his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted, which exposes the eviction epidemic in America. According to Desmond’s findings, eviction is incredibly prevalent in low-income communities and functions as a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.

And now a new study led by Professor Heidi Allen of our School, coauthored by Naomi Zewde and Erica Eliason, and published today in the September issue of Health Affairs, has identified one possible way out of the eviction crisis: the expansion of Medicaid. Allen’s work adds to previous research showing Medicaid to be an important tool in the fight to reduce poverty.

READ: “Can Medicaid Expansion Prevent Housing Evictions?” in Health Affairs (9.3.19)

Asked to comment on the impact of her study, Allen said: “Evictions are such a terrible and costly outcome for low-income families. We often lose sight of the fact that Medicaid is insurance and the primary role of insurance is to provide financial protection. Our study adds to a growing evidence base that Medicaid is doing this very well.”

Examining eviction records from 14 states for the years 2008–2013 and comparing rates of eviction from before and after California’s Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”), the authors found that Medicaid expansions were associated with a notable drop in evictions. For every 1,000 new Medicaid enrollees in California, they estimate there were roughly 22 fewer evictions per year.

Allen and her colleagues conclude by suggesting that Medicaid, in addition to being an important part of the health care safety net, could be adopted as a strategy for addressing poverty-related housing instability.

“From a policy perspective, this study provides important food for thought to states considering expanding or retracting Medicaid coverage,” Allen said.

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