Back in November, I wrote about the decline in the number of patient visits to the hospital. We had feasted on the seemingly good fortune of being in an ever expanding sector of an economy otherwise mired in the Great Recession. We built new hospital buildings and hired extra personnel to alleviate the burden of all these patients that were inundating our wards and operating rooms. Then seemingly at the drop of a hat, at the end of the summer, our patient census slumped. My intuition at the time, as well as many others, was that the economy was the cause. People who have lost their jobs frequently also lost their health insurance.
Now we have confirmation of this decline. The latest government statistics showed that healthcare spending increased only 3.9% in 2010. While 3.9% may not sound bad during a recession, this is the slowest growth rate for healthcare in over fifty years, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The only segment of the healthcare sector that had increased substantially was Medicaid spending which increased 40% between 2007 and 2010. That is perfectly understandable since the jobless had little money and were forced to rely on Medicaid for assistance.
Needless to say, this is not good news for healthcare, which has consistently added jobs to the economy every month even while every other sector is just barely starting to return to normal. How much longer can hospitals and surgery centers keep hiring if people don't have the means to pay? Will healthcare, the engine that has kept the American economy afloat for the past two and a half years, suddenly become an anchor dragging the economy down if we stop hiring? Will ObamaCare devastate the medical economy anyways in 2014 and make the current slump appear like the Gilded Age of American medicine? Only time will tell.