Economist: Health Care = Jobs In South Carolina

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From The State’s opinion page:

By Lynn Bailey

Gov.-elect Nikki Haley campaigned on increasing South Carolina’s jobs. In South Carolina, health care means jobs — 200,000 jobs. Jobs ranging from home health aides to nursing assistants to brain surgeons to insurance claims processors and hospital administrators. Jobs for people with only a high school diploma (or less) all the way up to years of post-graduate education. Health-care employment was one job sector that held steady during the worst recession since the Great Depression. Does anyone know an unemployed nurse? Or doctor?

In South Carolina, health care is a $31 billion economic activity. That’s $7,000 in spending for every man, woman and child in South Carolina. One in four dollars circulating in the state’s economy results from health care. Medicaid alone is $5 billion, and Medicare is another $10 billion in economic activity for our state. Medicaid’s annual spending is the equivalent of landing a Boeing plant every year.

Caring for our neighbors, healing the sick and restoring function to injured people is a valuable and noble livelihood. These are jobs that aren’t likely to be outsourced to Central America or Asia. Health-care research and manufacturing is a growing sector in South Carolina. Think Carolina Roche in Florence, B&D in Sumter and Zeus Manufacturing in Orangeburg.

But do we get the full value of this $31 billion in health expenditures? Probably not.

Because our health-care delivery is so fragmented, it is inefficient and too costly. We leave an estimated 700,000 to one million of our fellow citizens without health insurance with only limited access to care via the emergency room’s safety net. Our poor health status makes our workforce less productive and less competitive. Our level of chronic illness ranks us 46th out of 50 states.

The health-care law passed in March, the Affordable Care Act, offers South Carolina an opportunity to redesign and improve how we pay for and provide health care to our population. Over the next 15 years, the law will inject billions of dollars into our state’s economy to provide more and better care to citizens. These dollars translate directly into more jobs, increased earnings and growing incomes and a healthier, more competitive population.

Federal funding is already at work in the state Department of Insurance, as staff are researching and planning for an insurance exchange (a marketplace to provide affordable health insurance), reviewing laws and regulations and estimating the potential size of the market for small business and individual coverage. Groups already are collaborating to educate themselves and figure out how to best incorporate consumers into the decision making.

The process is like changing a tire while the car is moving. The goal is to improve the health care for South Carolinians by building on our private health insurance system. There will be missteps, unintended and unexpected consequences. There aren’t enough resources, and difficult choices and uncomfortable compromises will have to be made.

If our new governor chooses, she can reject the Affordable Care Act funding and stop the planning process. If she does, South Carolina will automatically default on tremendous opportunities and short-circuit South Carolinians deciding what is best for us.

National political activity may delay or revise the health law, but it is unlikely to be repealed outright. Some popular insurance reforms already have taken effect. But the big benefits of the Affordable Care Act — the wider availability of insurance coverage and tax credits to help pay premiums — roll out in January 2014. Our choice in South Carolina is this: Do we plan our own course in the way that works for us, or do we allow the federal government to again make decisions for us?

If Gov.-elect Haley was serious about jobs, she must also be serious about South Carolina’s health care. Job growth and health care are linked. South Carolina is too poor and too unhealthy to say no to Affordable Care Act funds.

Ms. Bailey is a consulting health care economist in Columbia.

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