John N. Lozier has been executive director of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council since its founding in January 1990. The Council is a network of more than 10,000 doctors, nurses, social workers, patients and advocates who share the mission to eliminate homelessness. John lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Joceline, and sits on the Board of Healthcare-NOW!
Question 1: Can you start off by talking about how people come to experience homelessness, and whether the healthcare industry plays a role in that?
Medical debt, deeply rooted in the current system, is a major and often overlooked contributor to homelessness. PNHP research shows that over 60% of personal bankruptcies in the US are the result of medical debt. From bankruptcy there is a well-worn path through eviction, followed by temporary stays with family or friends, to sleeping in a car, a shelter or outdoors.
Beyond that driver of homelessness, untreated illnesses play a huge role in selecting who will experience homelessness in an economy that is sorely lacking in affordable housing. Those who are most quickly squeezed out onto the streets tend to be those with so-called “behavioral health” problems – addictions and mental illnesses. Without minimizing the difficulties in treating these diseases, very helpful treatment approaches do exist, but are far from universally available. Uninsurance and underinsurance play a central role in excluding people who need and want treatment. Even when one has a payment source, system insufficiencies create wait lists for people who need to enter treatment at the point when they are ready.
Question 2: Does homelessness and housing insecurity create particular challenges for accessing needed healthcare?