"Like other research done in this area, we found a high prevalence of medical debt in our study; 46% of respondents had medical debt, and more than half had health insurance when they incurred the debt," said Access Project Policy Director Robert Seifert. "The big surprise was that having health insurance did little to protect people from housing difficulties -- one fifth of those with insurance reported housing problems."
Brandeis University researchers worked with The Access Project and local research partners on the study. "In a surprisingly clear way these data document how often medical debt hinders access to housing and home ownership among working families," noted Brandeis research professor Jeffrey Prottas, who developed and analyzed the survey. The researchers surveyed nearly 1,700 individuals and families at taxpayer assistance centers in seven cities.
Among these taxpayers, the survey found that more than a quarter of those with medical debt reported having housing woes. The most commonly reported was the inability to qualify for a mortgage; others included the inability to pay rent or monthly mortgage bills. Less frequently reported problems included losing a home to foreclosure, and eviction.
The Access Project's Seifert said changes in health insurance products will most likely exacerbate the problem of medical debt. "As American families with health insurance struggle with higher deductibles and co-payments, it is logical that many will wind up with a level of debt they simply cannot pay. And that will spill over into housing problems."