Paid Sick Leave Could Ease Burden for Colorectal Cancer Patients

January 1, 2016
Anna Azvolinsky

Paid sick leave benefits could alleviate some of the financial burden patients with colorectal cancer incur during treatment and boost their job retention.

Paid sick leave benefits could alleviate some of the financial burden patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) incur during treatment and boost their job retention, according to a survey-based study published in JAMA.

Christine M. Veenstra, MD, MSHP, a medical oncologist specializing in colorectal cancer at the University of Michigan, and colleagues analyzed mail and telephone surveys of patients with stage III CRC between 2011 and 2013.

The survey found that 55% of CRC patients retained their jobs following their cancer diagnosis; 59% of survey responders with paid sick leave retained their job through their treatment compared with 33% of those who did not have paid sick leave (P < .001).

Patients who were able to retain their jobs were more likely to be men, married, white, and without other illnesses. They were also more likely to be educated and to have a higher annual income and private health insurance.

Patients who did not have access to paid leave reported significantly higher personal financial burden compared with those who did not receive paid leave, including the need to borrow money (28% vs 18%; P < .001), difficulties making credit card payments (29% vs 14%; P < .001), and reduced spending on food and clothing (50% vs 35%; P < .001).

Patients in the study filled out surveys 4 months prior to cancer treatment and 12 months following treatment. Job retention was defined as employment at both diagnosis and a mean of 8 months following diagnosis.

Of the 567 patients who responded to the survey, 56% had paid sick leave from their employer. Of the responders, 58% were male, 28% had less than a high school education, and 35% reported an annual household income of less than $50,000.

As many as 40% of workers in the Unites States do not have paid sick leave from their employer and sick leave is not mandated under the Affordable Care Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act. Such a benefit is also not part of health insurance coverage in the United States. The study suggests that there are significant negative consequences for workers who do not have access to paid sick leave and are diagnosed with serious health conditions such as CRC.

The limitations of the study are that the data analyzed came only from those who responded to the survey and that data on the specific reasons for job change or loss was not captured.