The Financial Burden of Unpaid Sick Leave on Cancer Patients

Measured and unmeasured costs can have a significant impact on outcomes for patients with cancer.

The results of a recent study showed that cancer patients experienced financial stress, as well as emotional stress, when paid sick leave is not granted.

In a survey of 1300 patients with stage 3 colorectal cancer, researchers discovered 55% of patients who were eligible for paid sick leave were twice as likely to keep their jobs than patients with unpaid sick leave who were employed at the time of their diagnosis.

"Paid sick leave allows patients to take the time they need for cancer treatment but still keep getting a paycheck," said study author Christine Veenstra, MD.

Patients who were more likely to face financial burdens such as borrowing money, difficulty paying bills, less money for essentials like food and clothing, did not have paid sick leave.

"Financial burden happens in a lot of different ways," Dr. Veenstra said. "There are costs we can measure, like how much patients pay for prescriptions or doctor visits. Then there are unmeasured costs of cancer care: Did the patient take unpaid time off from work and lose paychecks? Or worse, were they unable to return to work after cancer treatment."

After factor adjustments were made, it was found that 59% of patients with paid sick leave kept their jobs and only 33% who did not receive paid sick leave kept their jobs.

"Paid sick leave can really support working Americans who have cancer or other issues as they go through their treatment," Dr. Veenstra said. "It may help patients retain their jobs and alleviate the financial strain associated with cancer treatment."

Currently, there are only 40% of Americans who are not eligible for paid sick leave, which is not mandatory under the Affordable Care Act.