The marathon national debate over health care reform (that still rages on) has energized people from all sides who variously describe it as social welfare, economic justice, pork barrel politics or a long overdue extension of coverage for millions who lacked fundamental coverage. What was curious, however, was the little attention this subject received as a critical economic engine in our economy. Even as the White House and Congress were preparing to launch a jobs stimulus initiative as the health care debate was winding up, the debate remained focused on providing health care benefits, not on how this legislation itself could be the most important jobs stimulus package in itself.
For starters, the health care industry is already one of the largest economic sectors in the U.S., representing more than 14 million jobs in 2008. The number of jobs is predicted to rise by another 3 million, according to a government forecast out to 2018. The industry is particularly appealing to the workforce because it hires workers with little more than a high school education and people with advanced medical degrees. It is also an industry increasingly driven by advanced technologies, and thus supports industries as diverse as medical equipment manufacturers, surgical instruments and diagnostic scanners and other advanced technologies.
The health care industry, like the government itself, has the distinction of being in every community in America. There isn’t a zip code in this country that doesn’t employ someone in health care in either a hospital, dentist office or some other related field.
Political ideologues will disagree over whether health care reform was an appropriate legislative goal, but in an economy that is basically on life support, it would seem that any initiative that had jobs attached to it would rise to the top of the political pool. Perhaps the Obama Administration would have had smoother sailing if they had named health care reform: The Economic Recovery and Jobs Creation Act in the Health Care Industry.