Opinion: Paid family and medical leave will benefit all Marylanders, and costs should be shared equitably
By Danielle Fincher
The writer is a family medicine and obstetrics physician who practices in both Maryland and D.C.
Last year doctors like myself were thrilled when the Maryland General Assembly passed the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program. As we look forward to watching the program benefit our patients and their families, we urge the General Assembly to ensure that the costs to implement the program are shared equitably.
The Time to Care Act passed in 2022 was a huge step forward for Marylanders and their loved ones. The legislation created paid family and medical leave for working people, allowing for up to 12 weeks of leave with partial wage replacement. This program ensures that working Marylanders can take the time needed to care for a new child, for a sick or injured family member, or for themselves without forgoing their whole income or risking losing their job.
As a doctor, I can say with certainty that this paid leave program will improve the health of Marylanders of all ages and backgrounds. In the case of birth, paid family and medical leave helps new parents stay home longer with their babies, resulting in better health outcomes. With paid leave, mothers are better able and more likely to breastfeed, which decreases occurrences of common childhood illnesses like ear infections, diarrhea, and respiratory infections as well as decreases a baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Breastfeeding also benefits moms by helping them recover more quickly after birth and decreases their risk of developing breast or ovarian cancers later in life. In addition, when parents have more leave time, children are more likely to get their recommended vaccines which benefits the entire community. The health benefits of paid family and medical leave also extend to families who adopt a child. Being able to take appropriate leave contributes to better family bonding and healthier development.
The health benefits of paid family and medical leave also extend into adulthood and old age. When working people experience a serious injury or longer-term illness, being able to take time to recover reduces the risk of re-injury or worsening illness. For example, cancer patients are better able to complete treatments and manage symptoms. Older adults are more likely to remain in their homes, rather than a hospital or nursing facility, if a loved one can take paid time off to care for them.
A crucial component of the FAMLI program is that it is paid leave. Having time off is of no benefit if one can’t afford to buy groceries, pay rent, or pay for medical care. Maintaining one’s income during family or medical leave ensures workers and their families experience less financial stress and are better able to heal.
In addition, access to paid family and medical leave is a financial benefit to Marylanders as a whole. Communities benefit when individuals remain healthy and get timely treatment for injuries and illnesses. Without paid time off to address health concerns, people are more likely to end up in the hospital or an emergency room, which contributes to the high cost of our health care system. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen with an advanced injury or illness requiring complicated and expensive treatment that could have been prevented, or at least mitigated, by earlier intervention and the patient being allowed time to recover.
Beyond individuals and communities, employers also benefit from paid family and medical leave. When workers are able to remain healthy and secure, they are more productive and more likely to stay in their role. Women are more likely to enter and remain in the workforce, and employers experience less turnover which reduces the cost needed to recruit, hire, and train new employees
I commend the Maryland General Assembly for passing a life-changing and life-saving paid family and medical leave program. The FAMLI program will benefit working Marylanders, their families, their employers, and their communities. Now the General Assembly must work to ensure the cost and implementation of this program is borne fairly and sustainably. As a practical physician who recognizes that both working people and employers benefit when people stay healthy and financially secure, it seems like common-sense to split the costs 50/50 between employers and employees. I urge the General Assembly to pass equitable cost-sharing for the FAMLI program without delay.