Report: Medical debt threatens housing security

Thursday, November 10, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Medical debt is threatening homeownership or housing stability for many American working families, including many with medical insurance, according to a study released Wednesday by a not-for-profit group.

The Access Project surveyed about 1,700 people with low-to-moderate household incomes in seven cities this year. The Boston-based organization said 46 percent of those responding had medical debt.

About one-fifth of those with medical insurance reported housing problems related to their medical debt. They reported problems including inability to qualify for a mortgage, to pay rent or to make their monthly mortgage bills.

Less frequently, they said they lost a home to foreclosure or eviction.

The study also looked at problems that resulted when medical debt becomes part of someone's credit record. A family's credit can be ruined if a member experiences health problems and medical bills go unpaid. The credit difficulties can result in problems with securing a mortgage, renting an apartment, getting a car loan or even obtaining a job, the organization noted.

Saint Louis University law professor Sidney Watson, a researcher on the project, said the findings could help lead to reforms in health insurance, billing and collection practices by service providers, and credit reports and ratings.

She said families get health insurance, in part, to protect them from catastrophic medical costs.

"We are seeing families that do not have that protection," she said.

The survey was conducted in Des Moines, Iowa; the Phoenix area; St. Louis; Tulsa, Okla.; Bridgeport, Conn; Providence, R.I., and Palm Beach County, Fla.

On the Net:

The Access Project:

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: