LOUISVILLE, Kentucky is known for bourbon and horse races. Its economy increasingly relies on a less glamorous industry: “lifelong wellness and ageing care”, the term used by local business leaders, or what everyone else calls health care for old people. Health care now accounts for 12 of greater Louisville’s 25 largest employers, including Humana, a huge health insurer, and Kindred Healthcare, which owns nursing homes and other health facilities. More than 18,000 people in greater Louisville work for health companies. That number is likely to grow.
These are cheerful figures. Unfortunately, they are made possible by gloomier ones. In 2011 America spent $2.7 trillion on health, equal to 17.9% of GDP. The government paid for nearly half of this. As public health spending continues to grow, it threatens to widen America’s deficit and eclipse other public programmes, such as infrastructure and education. Nearly every politician, regardless of party, agrees that this is dangerous.
On the local level, however, the mood is rather different. The trillions spent on health care do not disappear into the ether, but support hospitals, drug companies, insurers, nursing homes, information-technology firms and the millions of people they employ. Health spending may be disastrous for America’s economic future; for many local economies, it is a boon.
Each month’s national employment report is slightly different, but one factor has remained constant: the number of health-service jobs, such as doctors, nurses and medical assistants, keeps growing (see chart). The trend was impervious to the recession. In September there were 18.7m such jobs, up 28% since 2001. read more...