People who have survived cancer and, to a lesser extent, their partners often remain in jobs they would rather leave so they can maintain health insurance coverage. This phenomenon is known as job lock.

Publishing their findings in a letter in JAMA Oncology, researchers studied survey data from 1,340 cancer survivors and 1,593 partners of cancer survivors who responded to the 2011, 2016 and 2017 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey’s Experiences With Cancer questionnaire.

Fifty-eight percent of the cancer survivors and 56% of the partners were women. All age groups were represented; more than half were between 55 and 74 years old.

Twenty percent of the cancer survivors and 11% of the partners reported experiencing job lock.

Among the survivors, having a household income between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL) was associated with a greater likelihood of job lock, compared with having an income outside that range. In 2020, for a family of four, this is between $36,156 and $104,800.

For those who obtain marketplace insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the federal government provides progressive subsidies—meaning they are greatest at the lower-income end and phase out as income rises—to cover premiums for those with household incomes within 138% to 400% of the FPL. Individuals who live in the two thirds of states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are eligible if they have an income below 138% of the FPL.

Job lock among partners was more common among women versus men (12% versus 8%), married versus unmarried people (11% versus 7%) and nonwhites versus whites (16% versus 9%).

Cancer survivors who had three or more other health conditions, compared with those who had none, were more likely to report that their partner had job lock (14% versus 6%).

Survivors younger than 75 and those with a household income between 138% and 400% of the FPL were each more likely to report that their partner had job lock.

“In this study, approximately one in three cancer survivors in the U.S. reported job lock for themselves or their spouses/partners, suggesting that job lock is common and has implications for the well-being and careers of both survivors and their families,” the study authors concluded. 

To read the abstract of the letter, click here.