Homeless Not Getting Health Care

About half of America’s homeless suffer from a major illness or health problem, and one in four fail to get needed medical care, a study said today.

Homeless people suffer from physical and mental illness at higher rates than people in the mainstream, but one in three reported being unable to get drug prescriptions filled, according to the study published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Overall, nearly 25 percent of the homeless survey said they did not receive necessary medical care, according to the study, which was done based on interviews at shelters, food pantries and transitional housing programs as well as on U.S. Census Bureau data.

The homeless were more likely to go to hospital emergency rooms for medical care and were four times more likely to require a hospital stay — a reflection of the increased cost of delaying treatment.

“What we know from this study and from others is that the homeless people are really a very vulnerable part of our population who suffer terrible burdens of illness and early deaths,” said study author Margot Kushel of the University of California, San Francisco.

Almost Half Surveyed Had Major Illness

Almost half of the homeless surveyed reported at least one major illness or health problem and almost three-quarters suffered from either a mental health problem or abused alcohol or drugs.

An estimated 1 percent of Americans have an episode of homelessness during the course of a year, often brought about by poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, or other factors.

The majority of the homeless surveyed did not have medical insurance, though those who did had better access to care, the report said. It noted that many homeless military veterans did not take advantage of their insurance benefits.

“If you’re homeless and you don’t have a telephone, you may not have a place to get mail, you may or may not be able to read, and you may be psychiatrically impaired, you may not be aware of what your benefits that are due to you from your past service in the military,” Kushel said.