Frequent absences from work are nothing new to anyone with chronic illness. Here's a story on this issue, plus another at the end of the post regarding people lucky enough to have insurance & their financial woes. Many of us face these & other worse problems every day. From National Public Radio, Morning Edition, July 28, 2008 Why Do Sick People Go To Work? Unhealthy Fear by Joanne Silberner “The fact that so many people feel they can't stay at home for economic reasons is not the best way to go. ... You want them to feel that if they're sick, the best option is to stay home without serious financial penalties.” Robert Blendon, Harvard School of Public Health A lot of people come to work sick, according to a new poll conducted by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. You know the scene: The guy in the next cubicle is sneezing and coughing. And you're afraid to breathe. In a survey of people in Florida and Ohio — two swing states in the upcoming presidential election — NPR asked people about their work habits. "What we found," says Robert Blendon, of the Harvard School of Public Health, "is about half the people reported that in at least a number of cases they go to work when they're sick and believe they should stay at home because of the financial issues that are involved." Employers are offering sick leave. Among those polled in Florida, about 67 percent of people with jobs said they had sick leave. For Ohio, it was 60 percent. Employees Under Pressure Blendon says the poll suggests there are two main reasons people go to work sick: There is no paid sick leave, or they feel pressure from their employer to be on the job, regardless of whether they are ill. There is no information proving this trend of going to work sick is increasing. This appears to be the first time pollsters have asked this question. But other parts of the poll by NPR, Kaiser and Harvard suggest more workers are going to work sick. Many people said their financial situation has gotten worse over the last year. More than a third said they've had problems getting a good-paying job or a raise because of the economy. Going to work sick isn't a good idea, Blendon says. "The fact that so many people feel they can't stay at home for economic reasons is not the best way to go in terms of the best health of families," he says. "You want them to feel that if they're sick, the best option is to stay home without serious financial penalties." Easing The Burden On Workers That's why San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have recently required many employers to offer sick leave. And federal legislation has been proposed. But that's not the cure, says Marc Burgat. He's the vice president of government relations for the California Chamber of Commerce, and he fought against the San Francisco law. He says in this economy, businesses can't afford it. "If we start mandating these benefits, some of those entry-level positions will either find reduced benefits, reduced pay or simply find the jobs eliminated," Burgat says. The best way to deal with sick leave? Leave it up to the marketplace, Burgat says. Employers compete among one another for good workers. "When an employee comes in to look for a job — whether it's an entry-level job or a higher job — they're not looking at just the salary, but the entire benefits package," he says. "Sick leave and medical insurance and those sorts of things are part of that total package, and that's what allows one business to attract employees over another business." Whether that will work in a struggling economy remains to be seen. Still, Burgat says, he doesn't want his workers to come in sick. When they're ill, he tells them to stay home. Also, from National Public Radio, July 20, 2008 Feeling The Economic Pinch Health Bills Can Lead To Debt Woes For Insured, Too by Joseph Shapiro “The idea that middle-income people will be pursued by collection agencies, for many people, is not something they ever would have thought would happen to them.” Robert Blendon, Harvard School of Public Lindsay Mangum/NPR As the economy sours, Americans say they're being hit hard by gas bills and housing costs. But there's another big problem: One in four say they're having trouble paying health care bills. That's according to a new poll conducted in Florida and Ohio by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health. Jamie Drzewicki, a Florida resident, was hit especially hard. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was a shock, but she had health insurance, so she figured her medical costs were covered. She had surgery last year. And then she started getting the bills: $12,000, $40,000 $2,000. Today, Drzewicki owes more than $62,000. "Well, I don't know everything," she says. "I just know, you know, that I had insurance and it's just not good enough. It wasn't enough." It turned out that although she had health insurance through her job, there was a limit. Her insurance would pay up to $100,000 a year, but everything over that was billed to her. Drzewicki says before she got cancer, $100,000 seemed like a lot of coverage. "Not being greatly educated, it sounded like a lot of money to me, for someone who just needed a mammogram every year and a pap smear and nothing else," she says. "I'm a healthy person. I was a healthy person." Drzewicki has spiked hair and wears tight jeans and a T-shirt. She's 58, but she looks years younger. She told her story from the small recording studio in the pink house north of Miami where she lives with her husband. They're both musicians who perform in clubs and on cruise ships. For her day job, which provides insurance, Drzewicki is the activities director at a nursing home. She recently switched jobs because, after her cancer, her boss gave her a hard time about missing work. Now she works at another nursing home. She gets paid less and, because it's much farther away, she spends a lot more on gas. "I am living paycheck to paycheck," she says. "And I am making the decision between food and my cancer medication. And, I had to put — to buy food — on my Target card 'cause I knew I could pay it off. And my husband killed me. 'Do you know the percentage on that?' 'Honey, I'll pay it off with my next paycheck.' I'll never do that again." Drzewicki is far from alone. In polling by NPR, Kaiser and Harvard, 28 percent of people in Florida say they're having trouble paying their medical bills. They're not the uninsured people you might think. "They're people with health insurance, but it's not covering the co-pays, the deductibles, some of the drug costs, the dental care that may be needed, the home services," says Robert Blendon, who runs polling programs for the Harvard School of Public Health. "It's not deep enough to protect people." Blendon says one of the biggest surprises from the poll is that one in five people in Florida, and one in four in Ohio, say they've got collection agencies chasing them. The No. 1 reason is unpaid medical bills. "The idea that middle-income people will be pursued by collection agencies, for many people, is not something they ever would have thought would happen to them," he says. People like Jamie Drzewicki. "So they call my house, two, three times a night," she says. "And the last collection agency guy said, 'Well, you know, we're going to have to send it to the lawyers now.'" One part of the hospital is helping her apply for charity care — but so far, she hasn't been eligible. Another office, in the same hospital, called in the collection agency. "And the harassment has been part of my stress while I'm trying to recover, no joke," she says. She's got new insurance from her new job. There's one more surgery ahead: In August, for breast reconstruction. But she's pushed it back a few days because she's got a gig, in a 2,000-seat theater in a Florida retirement community. "Yeah, I'm going to be at Wynmoor Village," she says. It's her first performance since the cancer. What Drzewicki loves most in the world is to sing. "What can I sing?" she says. "I sing: 'What a day this has been. What a rare mood I'm in. Why it's almost like being in love. Ahhhh! He's comin' down.'"