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33% of cancer survivors, partners trapped in jobs for health insurance

Up to one-third of cancer survivors remain on the job just to keep their health insurance, a new study says. Photo by Lukas Bieri/Pixabay
Up to one-third of cancer survivors remain on the job just to keep their health insurance, a new study says. Photo by Lukas Bieri/Pixabay

April 23 (UPI) -- Up to one in three Americans with cancer stay on the job -- in spite of the potential effects on their health -- just to keep their health insurance coverage, a new analysis has found.

In a report published Thursday by JAMA Oncology, researchers report that just under 20 percent of cancer survivors, and nearly 11 percent of spouses or partners of cancer survivors, remained with an employer to ensure that they kept their benefits -- a situation that has been dubbed "job lock."

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"Having health insurance tied to employment can lead to situations where people with serious illness, like cancer, may have periods of getting stuck in a job just to maintain health insurance coverage," study co-author Dr. Erin E. Kent, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told UPI.

"We need more research to understand how this can affect cancer survivors over time," she added.

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The concept of job lock is somewhat unique to the United States, where health insurance coverage for working-age individuals is widely employer-based. To assess its impact on cancer survivors across the country, Kent and her colleagues surveyed more than 1,300 people who had recovered or were in remission and nearly 1,600 partners and spouses of survivors.

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Among the respondents who were survivors themselves, more than 55 percent were of "working age" -- or between 18 and 64 years of age -- while 43 percent of the respondents who were partners/spouses of survivors fit it into this age group. In all, just under one third of survey respondents reported job lock for either themselves or their partners/spouses.

Overall, 33 percent of respondents reported job lock for either themselves or their spouse or partner. Among all respondents, women were more likely to experience job lock than men -- 36 percent versus 28 percent.

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In addition, cancer survivors with three or more co-morbidities, or other health problems, were more likely to report spouse or partner job lock than those with no co-morbidities -- 14 percent versus 6 percent.

"Job lock is common and may damage well-being and career trajectory for cancer survivors and spouses or partners," Kent said. "We also need to consider job lock as an adverse outcome that healthcare providers, employers, patient advocates and policy makers recognize and work to prevent."

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