Next time you see a news report that your local hospital is looking to hire a few hundred workers, think twice about whether that’s such a good thing for your local economy.
Focusing on healthcare jobs is “misguided” because greater employment in the sector doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with improvements in health or economic well-being, according to a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The money that pays the salaries for those new healthcare workers has to come from somewhere. Typically, it originates from higher taxes, higher prices for health services or lower wages for workers who are getting larger amounts deducted from paychecks for insurance payments, according to the authors, two Harvard University economists.
“It is tempting to think that rising health care employment is a boon, but if the same outcomes can be achieved with lower employment and fewer resources, that leaves extra money to devote to other important public and private priorities such as education, infrastructure, food, shelter, and retirement savings,” they write.
The authors’ perspective deserves serious consideration, if only because employment in the health industry has continued to grow in recent years — often outpacing growth in all other industries — in spite of a slow economy.
Healthcare jobs have grown about 2.5 percent to 14.3 million in the U.S. over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That includes jobs in ambulatory healthcare services, hospitals, and nursing and residential care facilities.
Of course, any kind of job growth looks good to those people who are filling those new jobs. But, as the researchers note, “The challenge is that it’s easy to count jobs but much, much harder to figure out who paid for them and whether those resources could have been put to better use.”
Certainly, if greater spending on health jobs was driving innovation, raising quality and improving health, then that spending is good public policy. But that’s not at all the case, as evidence suggests that the increase in resources devoted to healthcare has not generated commensurate value, the researchers write.
The takeaway for policy makers? Job growth in the healthcare industry could actually reduce access to care.
“Treating the health care system like a (wildly inefficient) jobs program conflicts directly with the goal of ensuring that all Americans have access to care at an affordable price,” the authors conclude.
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