To improve health and cut costs, UnitedHealth spending $150 million on affordable housing

Having affordable housing is linked to better health outcomes so insurance company UnitedHealth is spending some money on affordable housing units:

The firm is taking an unusual step for an insurance company –investing $150 million to build low-income housing in a dozen states…

UnitedHealth’s big push into housing isn’t charity. The company derives benefits from it, too, including tax credits.

But Kate Rubin, vice president of social responsibility for UnitedHealth Group, says the real payoff is longer term.

“Studies show that without stable homes people are sick more often,” says Rubin. “There’s more undiagnosed illness and people are more likely to seek care in emergency rooms.”

That’s expensive for insurance companies, for patients and for the rest of us, who pay the price in higher premiums and taxes.

It will be interesting to see how many units UnitedHealth is able to construct for that kind of money. It seems like the biggest payoff would be if they are able to have sufficient economies of scale, enough units to see significant long-term returns.

This also hints at the need for affordable housing more broadly in the United States and the inability of others to construct it. Public housing in the United States is limited and has had a variety of issues for decades. Lower levels of government, whether states or metropolitan regions, or local government, have had either a hard time finding the right mix of regulation and incentives or haven’t paid any real attention to affordable housing. If few organizations are stepping up to provide or prompt public housing, perhaps insurance companies are a good bet.

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