Study connects the dots between essential health care and paid sick leave

Researchers from Cleveland State University and Florida Atlantic University have found that regardless of sociodemographic factors, workers who lack paid sick leave were significantly less likely to have received preventive health care screenings in the last 12 months—even among those who have been told they have a condition such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease that places them at higher medical risk. Moreover, workers without paid sick leave are 1.6 times less likely to have received a flu shot in the past 12 months, according to the research announced on March 1.

Unused health coverage. More than 20 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA); under the ACA, they do not have to pay for 15 preventive screenings recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Despite this advantage, however, many are not utilizing these life-saving screenings—and are therefore contributing to the nation’s soaring health care costs, which reached a whopping $3 trillion in 2014.

The researchers say they are the first to use data after the implementation of the ACA to get to the bottom of which factors are contributing to the low rates of preventive care use.

Lack of paid sick leave. The results of the study, which is published in the current issue of the journal Preventive Medicine, shed light on the important role of paid sick leave benefits in the lives of employees and ultimately in public health.

In addition to the negative impact on preventative health screenings and flu shots, the study specifically found that American workers without paid sick leave 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
• 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

“Compared to 22 similarly developed countries, the United States is the only one that does not mandate employers to provide paid sick leave benefits or include paid sick leave in a universal social insurance plan,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, lead author and an associate professor in the School of Social Work within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

“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,” DeRigne continued. “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.”

Closing the paid sick leave gap. The two most common ways to offer paid sick leave are by mandating employer-funded benefits or through a universal social insurance program funded through taxes. The Healthy Families Act, introduced in Congress in 2015, uses the employer-funded model; it would allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave if their employer has more than 15 employees and seven unpaid days for employers who have less than 15 employees. The bill has not yet been introduced in the current Congressional session.

“Our data can be used by health care professionals, policy makers, and others to consider the expansion of access to evening and weekend hours as well as mobile, community-based, and workplace health and wellness services,” added Patricia Stoddard Dare, an associate professor of social work at Cleveland State. “When workers forgo essential preventive health care such as flu shots, the public health implications are immense. This is particularly relevant for service-related employees, food preparation workers and others who have low access to paid sick leave coverage.”

About the study. For the study, the research team, co-led by Stoddard Dare, used cross-sectional data from a sample of 13,545 adults aged 18-64 with current paid employment from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey. They examined the relationship between having paid sick leave and obtaining eight preventive care services: blood pressure check; cholesterol check; fasting blood sugar check; getting a flu shot; being seen by a medical doctor or health care provider; getting a Pap test (females only); getting a mammogram (females only); and getting tested for colon cancer. The analysis controlled for demographic and other important predictor variables including gender, marital status, education, race/ethnicity, full-time work, insurance coverage, health status, limiting health conditions, family income, age, and family size.

The article also was co-authored by Cyleste C. Collins, Ph.D., assistant professor at Cleveland State University, and Linda Quinn, Ph.D., college associate lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Cleveland State University.


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