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

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

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.”

More than half of renters have delayed medical care because they could not afford it, according to first-of-its-kind national survey

COLUMBIA, Md. (April 3, 2019) – A new national survey on the connection between homes and health from Enterprise Community Partners Inc. (Enterprise) finds that more than half of the 1,000 renters surveyed have delayed care because they couldn’t afford it and 100 percent of medical professionals surveyed have had at least some of their patients express concerns about affordable housing.

The survey, the first to examine renters’ ability to afford health care and medical professionals’ perception of those challenges, reveals renters who are paying a high percentage of their income for housing are regularly making difficult tradeoffs between rent and health care.

The findings paint a stark picture of the state of health care and affordable homes in the U.S. The survey finds:

  • Every one of the 500 medical professionals surveyed reported that at least some of their patients have expressed concerns about affordable housing, with 31 percent of those professionals reporting that at least one quarter of their patients have expressed concerns about having an affordable place to live. This number increases to 42 percent among medical professionals with a larger low-income patient population.  
  • Nearly all (95 percent) lower income renters say that rent is their most important bill, but 78 percent of medical professionals think their lower income patients would prioritize their medical bills over rent. 
  • More than half (54 percent) of renters surveyed have delayed medical care specifically because they couldn’t afford it.
  • Among those who delayed care because of affordability, the most frequently delayed types of treatment included preventive routine check-ups (42 percent), seeking treatment while sick (38 percent) and buying over-the-counter medications (35 percent).
  • 44 percent of medical professionals believe a lack of accessible health care hinders the health of lower income communities, and less than half (48 percent) of lower income respondents are satisfied with health care accessibility where they live.

“No one should have to choose between paying rent and paying for health care,” said Laurel Blatchford, president, Enterprise Community Partners. “And yet, thousands of people make that difficult trade off every day. That’s wrong. By working closely with health care organizations, we’re creating ways for renters to afford the health care they need.”

The data show that painful tradeoffs between housing and health care are even more common among severely rent-burdened respondents, who are people paying more than 50 percent of their monthly income for housing. Severely rent-burdened respondents reported the following:

  • 83 percent said they prioritize paying rent before anything else, compared with 1 percent prioritizing health care costs.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) have not followed a treatment plan provided by a health care professional because they couldn’t afford it, compared with 34 percent of all renter respondents.
  • Nearly one-third (31 percent) of severely rent-burdened respondents delayed a routine check-up because they couldn’t afford it, compared with 23 percent of all renter respondents.
  • Severely rent-burdened respondents report low satisfaction rates with housing-related factors that impact their health, including adequate access to outdoor spaces (47 percent), lack of exposure to indoor toxins (48 percent) and air quality (38 percent).
  • 89 percent report that financial stress is the issue in their lives that is worst for their mental health. At the same time, 92 percent of medical professionals report that when they advise their patients to reduce their stress, patients say finances are the biggest source of stress.

“Whether it’s housing that is poorly designed or maintained that makes its residents sick, stress from needing to move often or skipping needed care and medication in order to make rent, our health is inextricably linked to home,” said Brian Rahmer, vice president, Health and Housing, Enterprise. “This survey is the first to carefully document how these challenges affect both renters and medical professionals, and will help both the health and the housing sectors collaborate to improve lives. This interdependence between health and housing must remain at the forefront of our collective health equity efforts.” 

The survey is part of Health Begins with Home, a national Enterprise initiative to harness the power of affordable homes to create healthier families and stronger communities. The initiative convenes cross-sector partners to promote health as a top priority in the development and preservation of affordable homes and to elevate homes as an essential tool for improving resident and community health. For more information about Health Begins with Home, please visit Enterprise’s website

Enterprise conducted the survey in partnership with Wakefield Research. The online renter survey polled 1,000 U.S. adult renters, 500 of whom have household incomes at $50,000 or under. The online medical professional survey polled 500 U.S. medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and physicians’ assistants.

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