Does high rent affect health care spending and outcomes?
By Austin Frakt
For low-income renters and residents in the U.S., access to affordable housing has strong ties to health care spending. People faced with high rent and housing costs often forego preventive care in an effort to lessen their already significant financial burdens. For these individuals, avoiding necessary treatment can lead to catastrophic spending on emergency procedures once their conditions have worsened. Although the relationship between housing costs and health needs more exploration, some early research has shown that Medicaid costs decline for residents who gain access to more affordable housing.
A 2019 Enterprise-commissioned survey polled 1,000 renters and 500 medical professionals in the U.S. and found that 100% of medical professionals responded that they had seen patients who expressed concern about affordable housing. While it may not be surprising to find that most doctors treat patients who struggle with housing costs, the survey also found that more than 50% of renters delayed health care because they couldn’t afford it.
Furthermore, the Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE) and Enterprise conducted a 2016 study investigating the link between affordable housing and health, surveying 1,625 residents in three major types of affordable housing (supportive housing for families, permanent supportive housing, and housing for seniors and people with disabilities). They found that when residents with unstable living situations gained access to more affordable housing, Medicaid costs decreased by $48 per resident per month, translating to an overall 12% drop in Medicaid costs. The study also found that outpatient care increased while emergency care dropped and that residents reported improved health care access and quality after their move.
This research begins to present a compelling argument for why we should focus more on affordable housing as it relates to health and wellbeing in the U.S., but more work is necessary to better understand the connection.