FAU Study finds lack of U.S. sick leave leads to illness, health care costs

It’s a classic case of cutting your nose off despite your face.

Employers who don’t offer their workers sick leave actually make us all sicker, according to a new study by Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Not only do workers who get ill end up coming to work and spreading diseases like the flu, the time they would take for preventative measures – such as a yearly physical – is not there.

The Affordable Care Act tried to remedy this by allowing the 20 million Americans now with insurance to get free preventative screenings. Yet, many do not utilize these lifesaving screening because they don’t have sick time to take to go to the doctor.

As a result, they are contributing to the nation’s soaring health care costs, which reached $3 trillion in 2014.

General illustration to go with Doctors project content. Illustration by Richard Watkins

Researchers at FAU and Cleveland State University in their study in Preventative Medicine, illustrate the role of paid sick leave and how it contributes to overall public health.

Compared to 22 similarly developed countries, the United States is the only country that does not mandate employers to provide paid sick leave benefits or include paid sick leave in a universal social insurance plan.

“Our findings demonstrate that even when insured adults are provided with free preventive screenings, paid sick leave is a significant factor associated with actually using the screenings,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., lead author and an associate professor in the School of Social Work within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

“American workers risk foregoing preventive health care, which could lead to the need for medical care at later stages of disease progression and at a higher cost for workers and the American health care system as a whole.”

Key findings from the study reveal that American workers without paid sick leave had odds that were:

  • 30 percent less likely to have had a blood pressure check in the last 12 months
  • 40 percent less likely to have had a cholesterol check in the last 12 months
  • 24 percent less likely to have had a fasting blood sugar check in the last 12 months
  • 61 percent less likely to have had a flu shot in the last 12 months
  • 19 percent less likely to have seen or talked to a physician or health care provider in the last 12 months
  • 23 percent less likely to have had a Pap test in the last 12 months

 

FAU study first to look at lack of paid sick leave, medical care delays

A new study by Florida Atlantic University is the first to look at the relationship between paid sick leave benefits and delays in medical care in the United States that makes our health care more expensive and less efficient.

The results again puts the U.S. behind other highly ranked countries.

The study,  published in the March issue of Health Affairs, found lack of medical care for both working adults and their family members. The study, done in conjunction with Cleveland State University, found that workers without paid sick leave were three times more likely to delay medical care than were workers with paid sick leave.

 

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Sick at work in America? Good luck. In the U.S., there are 49 million employees without sick leave. (Photo: Creative Commons)

They were also three times more likely to forgo needed medical care altogether. The lowest-income group of workers were at highest risk of delaying medical care.

“Paid sick leave is an important employer-provided benefit that helps workers and their dependents receive prompt preventive or acute medical care, recuperate from illness faster, and avert more serious illness,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, lead author of the study and associate professor in the School of Social Work at FAU.

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FAU researcher LeaAnne DeRigne says the lack of mandated paid sick leave leads to more complicated and expensive health outcomes down the line.

She said the results from the study contradict public health goals to reduce the spread of illness.

“Policymakers should consider the potential public health implications of their decisions when contemplating guaranteed sick leave benefits,” she said.

The U.S.  lags behind 22 other highly ranked countries in terms of economic and human development when it comes to mandating employers to provide paid sick leave. Only Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon – along with a few dozen municipalities mandate paid sick leave as an employee benefit.

That leaves 49 million U.S. workers without paid sick leave, which in the long run contributes to higher health costs for all when conditions and illness go untreated.

“The personal health care consequences of delaying or forgoing needed medical care can lead to more complicated and expensive health conditions,” DeRigne said.

FAU’s main campus is located in Boca Raton.