WASHINGTON, DC—The health care sector added 19,500 new jobs in April, putting the average for the first 4 months of 2017 at just under 20,000 jobs per month, a considerable decrease from the 32,000 per month seen in 2015 and 2016. Slow growth is occurring across the board, from hospitals to ambulatory care settings. Hospitals added 5,000 jobs per month in early 2017, while ambulatory care added 13,000, compared to 2016 levels of 10,000 and 20,000, respectively. This slowdown could indicate caution about hiring due to uncertainty about the coverage and compensation provisions of potential health reform legislation.
Also stalling is health care price growth, which rose by 1.9% compared to a year earlier, but dipped to below 2% for the first time in 6 months, showing a fairly steady decline from its recent high of 2.2% in October 2016. Year-over-year hospital price growth rose one-tenth to 1.7% and physician and clinical services price growth rose from 0.2% to 0.4% in March. Annual drug price growth in March was 4.7%, continuing to fall from the more than 20-year high of 7.0% in November 2016.
National health spending growth in March remained moderate at 5.3%, year over year. However, spending as a percent of GDP reached an all-time high at just below 18.4%, suggesting that while our efforts to control health care spending are partly successful, without a burst in economic growth, health care spending will fail to become sustainable.
“With four months of data in the books, the slowdown in health job growth in 2017 seems well established,” said Dr. Charles Roehrig, founding director of Altarum’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending. “The question is whether health spending is on a similar path. Some important clues will be coming out later this month when first quarter 2017 Advance Quarterly Services Survey data become available.”
The complete results are included in Altarum’s Health Sector Economic IndicatorsSM briefs (http://www.altarum.org/healthindicators).