Switch focus to affordable care, not healthcare jobs

As politicians emphasize the "job-creating" or "job-killing" aspects of health reforms, two Harvard economists say the focus on jobs is "misguided" and should be left out of cost-control debate, according to an editorial published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

They argue that healthcare jobs shouldn't factor into reforms designed to curb healthcare spending and improve quality, as rising healthcare employment doesn't guarantee better health and economic productivity.  Instead, the industry should base healthcare policy goals on providing access to affordable care.

 "We can't expect the healthcare industry to both deliver affordable healthcare and contribute to job growth," coauthor Amitabh Chandra, told The Boston Globe. "That's asking too much."

The editorial questions whether increased healthcare employment produces increased health improvements that are in proportionate to the increased spending on salaries. "Salaries for healthcare jobs are not manufactured out of thin air; they are produced by someone paying higher taxes, a patient paying for more healthcare, or an employee taking home lower wages because higher health insurance premiums are deducted from his or her paycheck," they write.

According to the Harvard economists, lower healthcare employment would free up funds for other important issues such as education, infrastructure, food, shelter and retirement savings.

Yet some reports have praised healthcare organizations for becoming top employers in large cities and rural communities, noting that these major healthcare employers are revitalizing neighborhoods and bringing in more job opportunities.

Nevertheless, healthcare employment continued its upward trend last month, adding 32,800 jobs in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. 

For more information:
- here's the NEJM editorial
- read the Globe article