Access to paid sick days could save $1 billion in medical costs annually according to a report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Currently, more than 44 million American workers do not have access to paid sick days, and more are unable to use time off to take care of 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, a senior research associate with IWPR. "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 approximately $47 billion annually on emergency department services. IWPR findings show that, by shifting the treatment of some preventable illnesses from emergency departments to less expensive doctors’ offices, clinics and hospital outpatient settings, universal access to paid sick days would save $1.1 billion annually. Currently, approximately $500 million of these preventable costs are covered by taxpayer-funded public health care for children, elders, veterans and low-income families. The remainder of preventable emergency department costs is 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, a research analyst with IWPR.
After controlling for various characteristics, including health insurance status, IWPR's analyses reveal that paid sick days are associated with better self-reported health, fewer delays in medical care, and fewer emergency department visits for adults and their children. Controlling for other factors, workers without paid sick days are 40% more likely than workers with paid sick days to delay medical care for themselves or a family member. Approximately 2.6 million fewer Americans would delay medical care each year if paid sick days were universal.
Employees with access to paid sick days have an easier time getting to a doctor during regular business hours to care for themselves or family members. In turn, access to paid sick days can help to decrease the likelihood that a worker will put off needed care and increases access to preventive care among workers and their children.
Previous IWPR analysis found that access to paid sick days is significantly rarer among Hispanics and blacks. Asian Americans and whites overall have the highest rates of access at 67% and 60% respectively, compared to 56% of blacks and 42% of Hispanics.
Many states and localities, as well as the U.S. Congress, have considered legislation that would ensure workers are able to earn paid sick time to take care of themselves and their families when they are ill. Such laws have been approved in the state of Connecticut, the cities of San Francisco and Seattle and the District of Columbia. 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 currently have access to paid sick days.
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