Report: 1 out of 6 Americans Stay in Jobs They Hate to Keep Their Health Insurance

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Black employees and people making less than $48,000 per year were more likely to not quit to ensure continued access to health benefits, according to a West Health-Gallup survey.

One out of six Americans stay in jobs they don’t like due to fear of losing their employer-sponsored health benefits, according to a West Health-Gallup survey released this month.

That trend is more pronounced for Black employees and people making less than $48,000 per year, according to the poll, which surveyed 3,870 adults online from March 15-21. 

“Black workers are an estimated 50% more likely to be staying in their current job for this reason than are their white counterparts,” the survey found. “And workers in households earning under $48,000 per year are nearly three times more likely to stay in an unwanted job for the health benefits than are workers living in households earning at least $120,000 per year (28% to 10%, respectively).”

More than half of the U.S. population—or about 158 million people — receive insurance either through their employer or the employer of someone else in their household. That means the 16% of workers who stay in their jobs for their benefits have dependents who also rely on that healthcare, which may bolster their “reluctance to seek out other work,” the survey said.

“The higher levels of these sentiments among Black workers and those in lower-income households underscores the disproportionate role that employment plays in needed health coverage for some Americans,” according to the report.

Respondents said the rising cost of health care was a large motivator to stay in jobs they otherwise did not enjoy. More than half of adults surveyed said they were “concerned” or “very concerned” that either the cost of health care itself (53% of respondents) or prescription drugs specifically (52%) “will continue to rise in the future to the point that they will no longer be able to afford them.” And 42% of respondents said they would likely not be able to afford a major unexpected health emergency, including 49% of Hispanic adults and 47% of Black adults.

Those results echo other recent research from Gallup, which found that roughly 46 million U.S. adults could not afford quality health care if they needed it. In a separate study last May, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that approximately 27 million people were at risk of losing their employer-provided health insurance due to pandemic-related job losses.

Respondents to the most recent Gallup survey indicated broad support for government intervention to reduce the cost of health care, including:Limits on increases to prescription drug costs (favored by 77% of participants).Caps on hospital prices in areas with limited providers (76%).Negotiating lower prices for certain high-cost drugs that lack lower-priced alternatives or generics (74%). 

Roughly two-thirds of respondents also support government-enforced limits on prices for out-of-network care. That support persisted regardless of whether an individual had private or public insurance, the survey found.

“Those with private insurance were just as likely as those on public health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) to favor government intervention,” Gallup reported.

The Biden administration has expressed support for some of those proposals, including initiatives to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid and allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. It’s unclear whether that will extend to concrete legislative proposals, but surveys indicate there is support for similar initiatives regardless of ethnicity, insurance type or political affiliation, said Dan Witters, a senior researcher for Gallup.

“Polling data from West Health and Gallup continue to demonstrate that most Americans are supportive of an elevated government role in curtailing the rising costs of care,” he said in a statement. “How elected officials respond to this is unfolding, but there seems to be substantive public support for a number of specific proposals that are on the table.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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