CHICAGO -- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL), a division of Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), is investing $1 million in housing as a health strategy. BCBSIL is among the initial private funders in the public/private partnership known as Chicago's Flexible Housing Pool, which coordinates permanent supportive housing for members of Chicago's homeless community, as well as crucial wraparound support services.
"We know that factors outside the scope of health care – such as lack of access to housing, food and transportation, play a major role in a person's ability to be healthy. They may also add to medical costs," said Maurice Smith, president of Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC). Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is a division of HCSC. "These social determinants of health are the reason we are developing and implementing strategies for health equity within the health care delivery system. One solution is housing to improve health outcomes."
BCBSIL's two-year, $1 million-dollar grant will help the FHP secure quality, safe, affordable housing for people who are experiencing homelessness and have been frequent users of hospital emergency rooms and other crisis response systems. To increase the likelihood of improved health outcomes, the housing subsidy is paired with intensive case management for health and social services.
"The average life expectancy among America's homeless is between 42 and 52 years old, much lower than the life expectancy for the general population at 78 years," said Derek Robinson, MD, chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. "One estimate is that more than 80 percent of all homeless people have at least one chronic health condition. By taking away the obstacle of homelessness, we can empower individuals to better manage their medical conditions and avoid complex problems like kidney failure, heart attack, stroke or blindness."
The program was created in 2017 when then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance creating the FHP and provided initial funding. The first participant received housing in March 2019 and a total of 26 people have been housed so far. The City of Chicago aims to eventually create 750 units of supportive housing.
The Flexible Housing Pool is modeled after a program in Los Angeles County that found that for every $1 invested in the program, Los Angeles County saved $1.20 by reducing health care and other social service costs. Emergency room visits decreased by 67.5% and the number of days of in-patient stays decreased by 77%.
"We are targeting our community investments to make a positive impact on community health and narrow the health disparity gap," said Clarita Santos, executive director Community Health Initiatives for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. "This FHP grant is just our latest effort. Since 2017 we have given nearly $450,000 in funding for programs aimed at supporting access to housing to improve health. We're not just paying rent, we are supporting people – giving them the tools they need to not only improve their health and reduce health care costs – but to live up to their potential."
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is committed to expanding access to quality, cost-effective health care to as many people as possible in Illinois. BCBSIL is dedicated to innovation and exploring, nurturing and activating future possibilities to make the health care system work better for our members and our communities. BCBSIL is a division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company and an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.