Legislation

Patient advocacy groups to Congress: Include paid family and medical leave in budget reconciliation bill

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Washington — A coalition of 20 patient advocacy and partner organizations is calling on Congress to include national paid family and medical leave in its budget reconciliation bill.

In a letter dated Oct. 12 and sent to the top two leaders of both the House and Senate, the American Heart Association and the 19 other groups specifically call for paid leave for workers with serious illnesses or health conditions along with their caregivers.

“While we understand that difficult decisions need to be made with regard to the reconciliation package, individuals with serious illnesses and caregivers are counting on you to help ensure they do not have to choose between treating their illness or having enough income to survive,” the letter states. “While you are negotiating budget targets in the billions, we ask you to remember the working patients and caregivers who are struggling to balance their own budgets as they treat or recover from their illness, or give care to loved ones, and try to still earn a paycheck.

“The availability of paid family and medical leave for these people is vital, as treatment for and recovery from serious illnesses and conditions are often difficult and time consuming.”

The coalition points to “multiple studies” that show cancer patients and their caregivers who have paid leave are more likely to stay with their companies and have lower rates of financial burden than those who don’t have access to paid leave.

 

In addition, 23% of private-sector workers have paid family leave through their jobs, the group writes, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means more than 88 million employees don’t have access to that benefit. Meanwhile, 42% of workers have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance, and fewer than 60% of employees qualify for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

“Our organizations have long fought to ensure that patients have access to care to treat their serious illnesses and health conditions,” the coalition writes. “Being able to take time off work is fundamentally an access-to-care issue, and our current patchwork system of paid and unpaid leave forces some patients and caregivers to choose between treating their illness and keeping their job or having enough income to survive – while also exacerbating health inequities.”

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