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Note to Super-Committee: A Quick Way to $1.1 Billion in Savings

November 15, 2011

As politicians scramble to cut programs like Medicare and Medicaid that serve the most vulnerable groups in our society, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has delivered a welcome reminder:  let’s save money instead by lowering health care costs. Just guaranteeing paid sick days would save more than a billion dollars in medical costs a year. That includes $500 million in taxpayer-funded public health care programs for children, elders, and low-income Americans.

“Taking time off work to see a primary care doctor is common sense, but over 40 million Americans cannot do so without losing pay or their job,” said Kevin Miller, Senior Research Associate with IWPR, and an author of the report. “Americans are paying over $1 billion each year in preventable emergency department costs because hard-working people without paid sick days are unable to get the preventative and early treatment they and their children need.”

Using a national data sample of private sector workers, researchers found that those who earn paid sick days report better health. Not surprisingly, they’re less likely to delay care for themselves or family members. And by having time to go to a doctor’s office, they’re less likely to use the hospital emergency room.

The United States spends approximately $47 billion annually on emergency department services.  IWPR findings show that, by shifting the treatment of some preventable illnesses from emergency departments to less expensive doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospital outpatient settings, universal access to paid sick days would save $1.1 billion a year.

Latinos and African-American workers would especially benefit, since they disproportionately are among the workers with no paid sick days. They would also gain as taxpayers, since half the savings would show up in tax dollars.

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