People who move due to high rent are more likely to ignore their healthcare needs

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Moving to a new apartment or house can be a stressful process. It can be even more taxing when people have to move due to unaffordable rent prices. While it might be common to lose something during a move, a new study finds people are also losing track of their health during this hectic time. Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA say Americans who move because of unaffordable housing are at significantly higher risk of neglecting their health care needs.

The study examined over 146,000 adults in the California Health Interview Survey from 2011 to 2017. Researchers compared respondents who had moved within the last five years to those who had not. The results reveal Americans who move due to rising costs are over 20 percent more likely to delay medical care than those moving for other reasons. This includes not receiving prescription medications or necessary health care treatments.

“While our research did not include data after 2017, the findings have never been more relevant, given the financial strains posed by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic,” says corresponding author Katherine Chen, MD in a media release.

To Chen’s point, the study notes that between 30 and 40 million renters in the United States may be at risk of eviction in the first few months of 2021.

“I am worried about long-term clinical consequences of the backlog of unmet medical needs that could result from the pending wave of evictions and moves,” the fellow in the UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program adds. “As a physician at a community clinic, I’ve seen patients who had stressful moves put their medical care on hold. Some ended up coming back to the clinic with serious conditions, including untreated hypertension or diabetes, which can lead to kidney failure.”

Choosing the rent over healthcare

The study finds Americans who move because of unaffordable rent are 38 percent more likely to have unmet medical needs. People who move for other reasons besides money increase their risk by 17 percent. This is all compared to Americans who did not move during the survey.

“The magnitude of the association between unmet medical needs and moves was significantly larger for cost-related moves than for other moves,” Chen says.

Researchers also find people forced to move because of rising costs are generally younger, less likely to be white, and more likely to have several children. On average, they also have a lower education level, less income, and more likely to be out of work, uninsured, or suffering from health problems. Although these Americans are more likely to delay their health care needs, study authors note the link with cost-related moves stayed steady across all demographics.

“We were surprised to find that even people who moved within the same neighborhood for cost reasons experienced disruption of medical care,” says senior author Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD. “And having a higher income did not insulate movers from the negative effects.”

Is a good doctor getting harder to find too?

The California team adds their review did not find a link between moving due to rent costs and actual access to health care. Given their results however, they suggest people forced to move because of rising costs may have a harder time finding proper medical care.

“In our study sample of California adults, nearly 1 in 20 reported moving due to unaffordable housing costs in the past five years—equivalent to a staggering 1.4 million people per year in California alone,” concludes Teryl Nuckols, MD, MSHS, director of the Division of General Internal Medicine in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Medicine. “Policymakers seeking to improve population health should consider strategies to limit cost-related moves and to mitigate their adverse effects on healthcare access.”

The study appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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