Study: Paid sick days would save $1 billion in health care

If all employees had access to paid sick days, it could save $1 billion in yearly medical costs, according to a report released by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

This figure includes $500 million in taxpayer-funded public health care programs for children, seniors and low-income Americans. To date, more than 44 million workers are not offered paid sick days, and even more cannot use time off to monitor sick children or other family members.  

"Taking time off work to see a primary care doctor is common sense, but over 40 million Americans cannot do so without losing pay or their job," says Kevin Miller, senior research associate at IWPR and an author of the report. "Americans are paying over $1 billion each year in preventable emergency department costs because hard-working people without paid sick days are unable to get the preventative and early treatment they and their children need."

The United States spends about $47 billion each year for emergency department services, but by shifting preventable illness treatments for some diseases from emergency departments to less expensive doctor's offices, clinics and hospital outpatient settings, comprehensive access to paid sick days would save $1.1 billion through the course of the year, the reports finds. About $500 million of these preventable costs are backed by taxpayer-funded public health care for children, seniors, veterans and low-income families on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children's Health Insurance Program and Veterans Affair. For the rest of preventable emergency department costs, they are accrued to individuals who pay out of pocket for health care and to insurance companies and their customers.

"As high and rising health care expenditures continuing to be a top concern for policymakers and businesses alike, paid sick days is a cost saving solution that should receive serious attention," says Claudia Williams, research analyst at IWPR and an author of the report.

The report shows that paid sick days are connected with better self-reported health, fewer interruptions in medical care and fewer emergency department visits for adults and their children. Workers without paid sick days are also 40 percent more likely than workers with paid sick days to postpone medical care for themselves or a family member. In fact, about 2.6 million fewer Americans would put off medical care annually if paid sick days were universal.

For employees who have access to paid sick days, they have an easier time visiting a doctor during typical business hours, the report finds. Thus, access to paid sick days can be attributed to lowering the chances that a worker will delay necessary care as well as more access to preventive care forwor kers and their children.

Workers who lack private insurance usually have less access to paid sick days than workers who have private health insurance, and an earlier IWPR analysis shows that access to paid sick days is much rarer among Hispanics and blacks while Asian Americans and whites have the highest rates of access at 67 percent and 60 percent, as opposed to 56 percent of blacks and 42 percent of Hispanics.

Many states, localities and even Congress have contemplated passing legislation that would offer all workers paid sick leave. Laws of this nature have been approved in Connecticut as well as the cities of San Francisco and Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Research reveals that two-fifths of private sector employees, including three in four food service workers, three in five personal health care workers and three in four child care workers, do not have access to paid sick days.  

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