‘A vicious cycle’: High rent is keeping Americans from health care

Originally published on Yahoo! Finance.

Two of the biggest issues in the country are affordable housing and high health care costs. And they may be more connected than ever before.

According to a report from Enterprise Community Partners, more than half (54%) of the 1,000 renters surveyed indicated that they have delayed their medical care in order to pay their rent.

“There’s a sort of vicious cycle around increasing health care expenditures as GDP, and the inability to invest or pay for other things that keep us healthy and well,” Brian Rahmer, vice president of Health and Housing at Enterprise Community Partners, told Yahoo Finance. “These issues play off of each other.”

The online survey also heard from 500 medical professionals. And according to the report, every one “reported that at least some of their patients have expressed concerns about affordable housing, with 31% of those professionals reporting that at least one quarter of their patients have expressed concerns about having an affordable place to live.”

The most common types of medical treatment that respondents delayed were preventive routine check-ups (42%), seeking treatment while sick (38%), and getting over-the-counter medicine (35%).

A ‘kind of ripple effect’

Megan Sandel, associate director of the GROW Clinic at Boston Medical Center, described these findings as “a really good framing.”

In regard to housing affordability, “the fact they tied it to financial health and high medical costs, I think is really smart,” she told Yahoo Finance, adding that she wasn’t surprised by the findings. “This kind of ripple effect is more and more what families and individuals are facing.”

And when it comes to the debate about health care coverage, Sandel said, one of the things that is often lost is “the fact that oftentimes, coverage isn’t always enough, [and] that there can be these high deductibles or high co-pays, such that you’re still falling into traps of debt and other things.” She cited reports that 25% of bankruptcies in the U.S. are related to medical debt.

“I do think that we have to talk about it, not just as affordable health coverage,” she added, “but also health coverage that doesn’t force you to choose between rent or [eating].”

Sandel noted an experience she had with a 2-year-old patient in her clinic.

“He hadn’t outgrown his 12-month-old clothes yet,” she said. “We were trying to get him to grow, and nothing was working. We were ordering all these expensive tests, all these nutritional supplements, and nothing was working.”

Sandel continued: “And then all of a sudden, he started growing. What had changed was the family got off an affordable housing waiting list and got their own apartment. The child was able to sleep in his own bed instead of the living room, and have a space at the table where he could actually just eat and not be distracted.”