Massachusetts Health-Jobs Surge May Signal Effects of U.S. Law

A rise in health-care jobs after Massachusetts instituted a universal insurance program may foreshadow national employment growth under the U.S. health overhaul, a study found.

Health-care employment climbed 9.5 percent per capita in Massachusetts from December 2005 to September 2010, outpacing 5.5 percent growth in the rest of the U.S., according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine today. New jobs in administration drove rising health-care employment, wrote Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and colleagues.

The Massachusetts experience suggests the U.S. health overhaul enacted last year, projected to expand coverage to 32 million uninsured people, may boost doctors’ administrative expenses, stoke demand for physician services and “accelerate the trend toward health care’s being the dominant employment sector in the economy,” Staiger and his co-authors wrote.

“The steady growth in health-care employment is just really in stark contrast to the rest of the economy,” Staiger said in a telephone interview today. The U.S. overhaul probably accelerates job growth “a little bit,” he said. Health-care employment rose by 30,000 jobs as national unemployment remained at 9.1 percent in August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week.

The Massachusetts health law passed in 2006 led to near-universal coverage for residents and greater spending on health care. U.S. health-care employment rose 8 percent from January 2001 to December 2005. The researchers used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Administrative Job Growth

Job growth in business operations and other areas outpaced creation of doctor and nurse positions. Administrative staffing rose about 18 percent in Massachusetts between 2005 and 2006, before the law passed, and 2008 and 2009, as added enrollment boosted workflow, the study shows. The number of physicians and nurses in Massachusetts rose 2.8 percent in that time, the authors wrote.

The U.S. law includes cost-containment measures including lower payments to health-care providers from Medicare, the U.S. insurance program for elderly and disabled, that may mitigate concern about rising administrative costs, according to the study.

The U.S. law may “exacerbate expected shortages of physicians and registered nurses,” the authors wrote. The U.S. physician shortage may expand almost 10-fold because of the overhaul, according to data compiled by the Washington-based Association of American Medical Colleges.

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