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Earned Sick Time Can Help Reduce Health Care Expenses

(Cross-posted from the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces Blog)

Thank you to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research for providing some of the information used in this blog post.

Allowing workers to earn sick time so they have the flexibility to recover from illnesses at home or seek preventative care and medical treatment isn’t just good for public health – it is also good for the public’s wallet. While over the next few years health care reform will provide individuals with more affordable options for health coverage, without earned sick time the amount of savings overall will be limited.

With over 40 percent of Americans not having any earned sick time, a large portion of the population will not be able to take the time off work to go see a doctor or obtain medical treatment – regardless of the medical coverage they have. If workers are unable to go to a doctor’s office or seek preventative care for an illness, use of the emergency room may not decrease significantly. Emergency care can cost two to five times more than visiting a doctor’s office.

With earned sick time, employees are more likely to stay home when they are sick, limiting the spread of the illness and protecting co-workers, customers, or anyone else they come in contact with during the work day. During the height of the H1N1 pandemic, people were urged to stay home if they had any signs of the flu, however, those without earned sick time were less likely to stay home because they could not afford to. This and other outbreaks cost workers, employers, and insurance companies a lot of money.

Passage of legislation that would provide workers earned sick time, like the Healthy Families Act, would result in savings for workers of over $100 million a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses resulting from seasonal flu alone, plus other savings for employers and insurers. Allowing workers to take paid leave to care for elderly parents or other family members who become ill could save over $700 million a year by avoiding temporary placement in care facilities. In comparison, providing leave comes at an average cost in the private sector of just 23 cents per employer-hour worked.

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