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Affordable Health Care and Paid Sick Days Go Hand in Hand

Julia Kortrey and Christine Sloane, National Partnership | November 4, 2016

This week marks the start of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). From now through January 31, eligible Americans can sign up for or make changes to their health insurance plans through the health insurance marketplaces. This is great news and a reminder that the ACA has made affordable, comprehensive health insurance coverage available to millions more consumers. But increasing access to health coverage addresses only one barrier to health care in this country. Paid sick days access is essential too.

Right now, more than 41 million private sector workers in the United States are unable to earn a single paid sick day, which means they risk losing critical income and their jobs when they get sick or need to see a doctor or get preventive care. In fact, nearly one in four adults has reported they either lost a job or were threatened with job loss because they needed to take a sick day. And just three unpaid days away from work can cost an average family of four without paid sick days their entire month’s grocery budget.

This lack of access to paid sick days means that, even though about 20 million people have gained access to health coverage under the ACA, it is likely that too many still struggle to get the care they need because they cannot take time away from work without sacrificing their financial stability. And women – 9.5 million of whom have gained access to health coverage thanks to the ACA – are disproportionately affected because they are still often primary caregivers in addition to being breadwinners for their families.

Paid sick days have widespread benefits for workers, businesses, the economy and our health care system. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if all U.S. workers had paid sick days, 1.3 million emergency room visits could be prevented each year, amounting to a savings of $1.1 billion annually. Emergency visits would especially decrease among workers with public insurance, such as Medicaid. Lower-wage workers are more likely to qualify for Medicaid, but they are among those least likely to have paid sick days (39 percent) or flexible work schedules that would enable them to get care.

Paid sick days also enable working people to access preventive care more easily, which can be critical to long-term health and reduce demand on the health care system. Thanks to the ACA, most preventive care services are now provided at no cost to consumers. But again, the ability to actually get this care can depend on access to paid time off. Research shows that people who have paid sick days are more likely to get recommended cancer screenings and regular check-ups, which can be especially important for younger workers.

So as this fourth open enrollment period begins, let’s remember that affordable health care and paid sick days go hand in hand. Thirty-seven jurisdictions have adopted paid sick days laws that are, or will soon be, in effect – all of these laws are in states that have also expanded Medicaid. The next Congress and administration should prioritize passage of a federal paid sick days standard, like the one proposed in the Healthy Families Act. The ability to address your own or your family’s health needs should not depend on geography.

To learn more about the fight to pass the Healthy Families Act, contact Christine Sloane.

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