Ann Arbor Report: U.S. Health Care Job Growth Up 50 Percent

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The health care industry added 22,600 jobs nationally last month, bringing the 6-month average job gain to 26,000, about 50 percent higher than the previous 12 months, according to Ann Arbor-based Altarum Institute. The nonprofit research and consulting firm plans to do further research into whether the growth took place primarily in states that offered expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

“Two months ago, we were seeing no acceleration in health care employment,” says Charles Roehrig, director of the Altarum’s Center. “However, with the upward revision to July and strong August and September growth, the picture has transformed into a significant jump in the second quarter that has continued through the third quarter. We are looking to see if this growth has been concentrated in states that embraced expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act.”

Continued growth seems likely, analysts say, as the August job openings rate of 4.3 percent in health care and social assistance is the highest since before the recession. What’s more, the Obama administration delayed several costly programs of Obamacare to 2015 in a bid to minimize scrutiny leading up to the November Congressional elections.

Other indicators of growth include health spending in August, which grew 4.9 percent over last year. None of the increase is due to health care services, where spending growth has been essentially flat. Though, more than half the increase can be attributed to prescription drug spending, the report says.

IN OTHER HEALTH CARE NEWS, a new report released by Lansing-based nonprofit Cobalt Community Research sheds light on public employers’ implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the efforts to manage health costs and other post-employment benefits liabilities.

The report details survey results based on experiences and efforts of 1,536 municipalities, school districts, state governments, and others from across the U.S.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Rising Revenue: 33 percent of respondents expect 2015 revenue to increase, up from only 13 percent in 2011. Only 17 percent expect revenue to drop, unlike the 43 percent in 2011.
  • Rising Health Costs: 50 percent of respondents experienced an over 4 percent increase in health costs for 2014, and 56 percent expect an increase over 4 percent for 2015.
  • Soft Affordable Care Act Understanding: ACA knowledge is limited. Respondents rate their knowledge at 4.5, with 10 being the highest rating for understanding.
  • Taking First Steps: Employers offering coverage responded to the ACA with compliance reviews, testing to meet minimum value, and calculating ACA costs. Nearly half are developing strategies for part-time and seasonal employees because of the 30-hour per week requirement.
  • Sharing Education and Costs: Very few employers are eliminating coverage or moving toward an exchange, and fewer than 10 percent are considering exchange in the next two years. Most changes include: increasing share of the premium, increasing deductibles, increasing copays, tightening drug formularies, increasing employee/retiree education, and wellness programs.
  • Prefunding on Hold: 61 percent of respondents are choosing not to prefund benefits, up from 51 percent in 2011. For those who are prefunding, the percentage of prefunded liability has declined. About 59 percent of those setting aside assets are managing them in a general fund account, up 49 percent in 2011.

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