Mandated Sick Leave Leads To More Cancer Screenings

With busy work and families to care for, it is often challenging to take care of yourself, and stepping away from the office isn't always easy. According to a new study, however, increased paid sick days led to more cancer screenings.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggests breast cancer screening rates heightened up to 4%, and colorectal cancer screenings rose between 6 to 8% during the seven-year study period.

In the United States, access to the healthcare system is not always guaranteed. A simple trip to the doctor's office without insurance can cost anywhere between $300 to $600. With many doctor's offices closing on the weekends, employees can't always find time to visit the hospital for an annual check-up.

Although health insurance can cover certain tests and visits, time isn't something employees are always guaranteed of.

"These nonmonetary barriers to health-care access matter," says Kevin Callison, Ph.D., the lead study author and Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Professor of Economics at the Murphy Institute for Political Economy at Tulane University.

"Improving or reducing these barriers can have meaningful impacts on people’s health," adds Callison.

The U.S. continues to be one of the only wealthy countries in the world that does not provide a federally required paid sick leave, per the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Approximately one in four employees cannot take even one paid sick day during their career.

How was the study conducted?

Researchers took breast and colorectal cancer screening rates in two million private sector employees for seven years, from 2012 to 2019. During that time, several U.S. states began mandating paid sick leaves, and 61 areas out of 300 metropolitan statistical areas became part of the mandated paid sick leave policy. The study says that although the screening rate increase was minimal, study results encompassed employees with access to paid sick leaves.

When the researchers focused the study results only on those who received mandated sick leaves for the first time, they approximated breast screening rates had increased by 9% to 12%. In comparison, colorectal screening rates heightened by 21% to 29%.

"Our effects become much larger if we're willing to assume that only the workers who are gaining paid sick leave coverage are the ones who are changing their screening behaviors," highlights Callison.

"Because we focused on these policies that drive changes in coverage rather than people self-selecting into coverage, our argument is that we have a more accurate estimate of the relationship between paid sick leave and cancer screenings."

The new study highlights the importance of paid sick leaves and places crucial importance on the healthcare system in the U.S.

Callison suggests that more cancer screenings can lead to better outcomes and even diminish cancer mortality rates. The study also notes that most employees without paid sick leaves are individuals of color and not financially stable.

As of now, 17 states and 18 cities have taken mandated sick leaves, while 18 states have banned cities from allowing equivalent mandates.

Callison concludes: "We know that racial and ethnic minorities tend to have higher mortality rates for certain cancers. So are things like this going to improve those gaps? That’s really the next step where we want to go."

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