Piles of research link foreclosure to depression, increased emergency room visits and even suicide among people who have lost their homes or are close to it. But just as foreclosures can contribute to health problems, new research shows that health problems can contribute to foreclosure, as well.
Middle-aged adults with chronic conditions that got worse as they grew older are nearly twice as likely to default on their mortgages and 2.6 times as likely to lapse into foreclosure than those whose chronic conditions remained stable, according to a recent study that tracked people as they hit their 40th and 50th birthdays during the foreclosure crisis.
The study concluded that those who got sicker from 2007 through 2010 were more likely to lose their jobs, and therefore their income and health insurance, which heightened their chances of foreclosure. But even people who weren't grappling with job loss and its consequences were more likely to default, possibly because they struggled with high medical costs, the study said.
In other words, even with the foreclosure crisis behind us, the economy improving and a new health care law in effect that provides expanded coverage for millions of Americans, it's still extremely expensive to get sick in this country. And one of the consequences may be losing your house.
“The bigger theme remains: Can we break the link between becoming ill and becoming financially devastated?” said Jason Houle, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College. "The recession was a good case study to explore this larger question."
Recessions come and go, and President Obama declared the most recent financial crisis gone when he delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday. But he did devote some time to speaking about the financial setbacks tied to illness, and he noted that 43 million workers in this country do not get paid sick leave. "We're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave," Obama said. He then challenged Congress to adopt legislation that would let workers earn up to seven days a year of such leave and said he'd take action to help states pass similar laws.
While the foreclosure study does not stake out a position on this issue, such a program would most likely help reduce the financial burden that families suffer when illness strikes, said Houle, who co-authored the study with Danya Keene, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health. The president's health care law may do the same.
In its most recent biennial health insurance survey, the Commonwealth Fund found that the number of adults who said they had problems paying their medical bills in the past 12 months or were paying off medical debt fell from 75 million in 2013 (41 percent) to 64 million in 2014 (35 percent) under the health care law's expanded coverage. That's the first time that the numbers have dropped since the private foundation began asking these questions in 2005. More from the survey:
Keep in mind, however, that while the foreclosure crisis may be over, many Americans still feel its residual effects. Some homeowners remain in limbo, particularly in regions where local laws draw out the foreclosure process. For those homeowners, based on the results of this study, a setback in their health could mean the difference between keeping their home or losing it.