State Senator Josh Green, who is also a physician, has introduced a bill in Hawaii which will classify homelessness as a medical condition. If the bill is passed, Dr Green hopes the idea will transform the lives of homeless people whose medical bills, research suggests, reduce by 43% once they have been housed and provided with supportive services.
A small number of homeless people require a disproportionate amount of medical care. With the average cost to the healthcare system of $120,000 per annum and the average cost to house an individual of $18,000, Dr Green thinks the total savings to the state could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Dr Green wants doctors to be able to prescribe housing on an individual basis, with qualifying patients being homeless for a minimum of six months and additionally to be suffering from either mental illness or substance addition.
Many homeless patients are treated for basic conditions but with few long-term benefits. Dr Green said: “I’m really just applying a band-aid, but these problems require intensive long-term support.”
The bill has already found supporters, including Daniel Cheng, an emergency room physician at the Queens Medical Center in Honolulu where, last year, the cost of treatment for homeless people was $90m.
Cheng said he most commonly sees homeless patients for the treatment of psychiatric issues, infections, problems related to substance abuse and general medical concerns such as a stomach ache or chest pain. Often, patients return re-infected just a week after he treats their wound.
He said: “When emergency medical services are being heavily overused by a population that’s being poorly served, it costs everybody. Instead of paying for an antibiotic, let’s take that $5,000 visit and pay for housing.”
Should this be something that the Government of the United Kingdom should consider?