Homeless individuals who are saddled with medical debt remain homeless for at least an additional two years longer than those who do not have any healthcare debts, according to a new study released by the University of Washington. In many cases, even a small amount of medical debt — $300 or less — is enough to cause a domino effect that significantly exacerbates the financial situations of homeless individuals.
The situation is even worse for homeless individuals with medical debts who are also minorities. They reported being homeless for more than a year longer than white individuals in the same financial situation.
Many of the individuals who participated in the study had some form of healthcare insurance, such as Washington’s Medicaid program, Apple Health, or from the Veterans Health Administration or Indian Health Service. But insurance does not always cover 100% of the costs, and any medical debt can lead to individuals staying on the street for a lot longer.
About 80% of those who participated in the study had some kind of debt, such as student loans, credit cards, payday loans, or medical debts. Two-thirds of the participants reported having medical debt, most of which had been placed with a collection agency.
“So many people have lost their jobs, and then they lose their health insurance,” said Jessica Bielenberg, who conducted the study for her master’s thesis from the UW School of Public Health, in a published report. “They may not be able to pay even small medical bills or co-pays and still have rent or mortgage payments. If they get sick with coronavirus, or some other medical condition, this can be the perfect storm that puts people out on the street and increases the time they spend there.”