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Healthcare reform might change employment prospects for those in medical field

November 22, 2010 |  9:14 am

The economic slowdown has even touched the once-immune healthcare industry, according to an article in Monday's Los Angeles Times. Stunted spending has led to job cuts and less hiring in the industry, but will healthcare reform -- if it remains intact -- change that?

David Cutler, a Harvard University economist who has advised both the Clinton and Obama administrations, says the Obama plan could help change the focus on healthcare jobs to preventative and primary care, which will create some jobs and eliminate others.

The system now is driven by hospitals receiving money every time a patient ends up in a hospital, he said -- and about 1/3 of medical spending is wasted.

The healthcare-reform legislation changes payment structures so that good primary care is rewarded, he said. About 20% of Medicare patients end up back in hospitals 30 days after hospital stays; with more attention on primary care, that number could be reduced to 6%, he said.

"Over time, my hope is that costs are down by even more," he said. "If the system worked well, we wouldn't need half the money we spent on medical care."

That doesn't mean that healthcare won't continue to be a jobs machine after the economy rebounds, he said. The jobs will just be different -- rather than positions for office clerks and machine technicians, there will be more jobs in primary and preventative care.

"Over time, economies employ everybody who wants to work; the question is getting them to do the right thing," he said.

Either way, it will likely take years for those changes to take place, especially as the economy freezes hospital budgets and medical spending.

Want more specific numbers? According to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, there will be 2.8 million professional healthcare jobs opening in 2018, with 2 million healthcare support jobs available.

So those out there with healthcare degrees and no jobs to go with them, don't fear: there will be work for you, as long as you can hold on until 2018.

-- Alana Semuels 

Photo: Nurses in a Seattle tuberculosis clinic in 1927. Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives, via Flickr