The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with its June jobs report this week and, consistent with usual trends, healthcare jobs are booming. In June 2013 there were approximately 20,000 new healthcare jobs in the U.S., ¾ of which were in the ambulatory care sector and ¼ of which were in hospitals. Healthcare jobs represented 10% of all new jobs created this month.
The June growth in healthcare jobs matches up to the average 19,000 new healthcare jobs we have seen created in each of the prior months of 2013 and the 12% job growth we have seen over the last five years. In a country where new jobs are viewed as even better than baseball, apple pie and mom herself, these new jobs should elicit a huge round of applause, or at least a stadium style wave, right?
Or should they?
Change the channel and a different set of policy makers, employers and industry experts will tell you that the only way to save our economy from ruin is to cut healthcare costs. Cutting healthcare costs means making the people who work within the system vastly more efficient, eliminating unnecessary medical care (and thus reducing the labor that goes along with it), and helping empower consumers to do things for themselves, including taking a more active role in reducing their own demand for healthcare services and, in some cases, doing at home what they might previously have used the healthcare system to do (e.g., diagnostics, home care, etc).
An old data series got new life, when the Brookings Institution issued a report that compared health care jobs growth versus all other industries.
It’s “a truly astonishing graph,” according to Derek Thompson at The Atlantic. “I knew health care had been the most important driver of national employment over the last few years, but I had never seen the case made so starkly.”
Thompson wasn’t alone in his surprise. (Hopefully, readers of The Health Care Blog would be less astonished.) But lost within the reaction—and even mostly overlooked within the industry—is that not all health care jobs are growing, or at least not growing at the same pace.
Take a look at the following chart. It resembles the Brookings data, with one major change: The hospital employment curve has been separated from all other health care jobs growth.
Notice how hospital employment essentially flatlined across 2009—a hard year for the sector, which was still insulated compared to the rest of the economy. But many organizations pared back on staff and sought to cut non-essential services to survive the Great Recession.
The dreaded sequester cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 went into effect this month, putting into place a 2 percent cut in Medicare spending.
While Congress can still enact a “fix” that will delay or amend these cuts, that seems unlikely as of this writing. Yet how the cuts will impact Medicare and its nearly 50 million beneficiaries is a still a moving target.
In a joint study issued September 2012 by the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, it was estimated that some 766,000 jobs would be lost by 2021 if the sequester cuts went into effect.
According to the study, “Researchers forecast that more than 496,000 jobs will be lost during the first year of sequestration, and these cuts will impact health-care sectors in every state. In California alone, the health sector could lose more than 78,000 jobs by 2021.”
Last week Steve Case wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post called Give entrepreneurs room and they will grow the economy. For those not familiar with him, Case was the original founding CEO of AOL and he has been an active healthcare investor, among other things, for the past 7 years. My firm, Psilos Group, is a co-investor with Case’s Revolution Health Fund in a health services company called Extend Health.
Anyway, it was a very good editorial and one of the statistics within it particularly stood out to me in light of my venture capital role: firms less than five years old have produced 40 million American jobs over the past three decades–accounting for all of the net new jobs created in that period. That is a pretty stunning fact and also one that really makes a person scratch their head about current U.S. policy towards start-ups. It is worth watching this Kauffman Foundation 3 minute video which is very instructive about start-ups and job creation.
Nowhere is this issue more relevant than in the healthcare industry, which conveniently happens to be the only thing I know anything about. In a world where there is no way out of the healthcare crisis except through the innovation of new ideas to solve our healthcare problems, young companies are the golden ticket to new employment.
I recently moderated a Crain’s Business Breakfast. The panel included four highly respected Chicago-area hospital CEOs. I questioned the panel on a wide range of topics, from near term operational issues to long term public policy concerns. One expects well-rehearsed answers from senior executives so I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of many of their comments. I was rather looking forward to how they would respond to this question, which they had been told in advance:
“Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recently commented that the healthcare sector continues to be a bright spot for job creation. How is the nation to reconcile the desire for “job creation” with the desire for cost containment?”
First, some background. Secretary Solis is correct – the healthcare sector is a jobs engine. In just the past year, healthcare has added about 325,000 jobs, accounting for perhaps a third of total U.S. job growth. By way of perspective, the rapidly growing energy sector creates about 100,000 jobs annually. Job growth is great, but more jobs in health care means more spending on health care. Despite the technological imperative that propels the system, healthcare remains a labor intensive business. Half or more of hospital spending goes to labor, not including physician expenses. Labor expenses dominate home health and long term care. It is nigh on impossible to reduce healthcare spending without reducing labor spending. Thus, job creation and cost containment are enemies.
I put the ball in the hands of the panelists: do you favor job growth or do you favor spending cuts? The panel punted.