Medicaid ACOs and Housing First included in NJ budget

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By Jon Tew, Alex Staropoli, and Amy Yuen

With budget negotiations down to the wire, New Jersey lawmakers and the governor came together last week around a shared set of priorities that included continuing investment in the Medicaid Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Demonstration Project and our Housing First program. The Camden Coalition praised state leaders for renewing these innovative support services that improve the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable residents across the state.

Providing better healthcare for New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents
“The ACO has been transformational for Trenton patients, especially those with multiple chronic conditions and unmet social service needs,” said Trenton Health Team Executive Director Gregory Paulson. Had the ACO Demonstration Project been left out of the budget, or had a government shutdown occurred, the three state-certified Medicaid ACOs — the Camden Coalition, Trenton Health Team, and Healthy Greater Newark — would have lost access to crucial data that allow our organizations to triage patients, provide better care coordination, and develop innovative solutions that further the mission of improving healthcare quality and access to services.

“Our care managers use the Health Information Exchange data to identify high-need patients and work with them over time, often in their homes, to address challenges from food access to housing to addiction treatment needs,” Gregory continued. “This program is not only the right thing to do for the citizens of New Jersey, it is a cost-effective way to manage healthcare needs and improve the health and wellbeing of our population.”

The three ACOs have been working in coalition with area hospitals, primary care and specialty providers, behavioral health providers, community organizations, cross-sector partners, and city residents to provide better healthcare at lower cost through coordinated, efficient care for local residents enrolled in Medicaid. The work of the ACOs would not be possible without their ability to link and analyze data across providers and payers. Each state-certified ACO manages a Health Information Exchange that offers participating health providers secure, real-time access to shared medical information. These data foster improved care coordination among payers and providers and reduce unnecessary, costly duplication.

Transforming lives through Housing First
State leaders also included a provision in the New Jersey state budget that invests $500,000 in the Camden Coalition Housing First program, which was launched in 2015 in response to significant rates of homelessness among patients with complex health and social needs.

“We want to thank Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Coughlin, Senator Cruz-Perez, Assemblywoman Jones, and the entire New Jersey Legislature for their leadership on complex care,” said our CEO Kathleen Noonan. “The Camden Coalition Housing First program is a critical intervention for chronically homeless individuals struggling with medical and social complexities. The state’s investment in support services for this population demonstrates its commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable New Jerseyans.”

With the help of community partners, the Camden Coalition provides participants with safe, dignified housing and extensive wrap-around services so they can improve their health and manage chronic conditions. Preliminary findings show a more than 60 percent reduction in inpatient and emergency room use for enrolled patients.

Housing First is an evidence-based model that provides permanent housing and support services to individuals facing long-term housing challenges. Absent permanent housing, many chronically homeless individuals grapple with how to manage their health and rely on multiple systems to meet basic needs. Hospitalization and incarceration often become their default systems of care, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars per person per year.

“The Housing First program has been life-changing for so many of our patients,” said the Coalition’s Senior Program Manager for Innovation Operations Laura Buckley. “For many individuals, it has been years since they have had stable housing, let alone an apartment of their own. Although there are many barriers to getting individuals housed, the life-changing impact housing has on patients’ lives speaks for itself. We are so glad the state has continued to invest in this important program.”

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