Health-care healthiest jobs sector

The Record

Ann Kolstad, one of 45 nurses the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin plans to hire to help it comply with the health care overhaul, spent 20 minutes recently assisting a 43-year-old woman in sorting out her medical issues.

Blind in one eye, obese, diabetic and worried about losing her sight, the patient wanted gastric-bypass surgery to help her lose weight and control her diabetes. While the woman thought her insurance wouldn’t cover it, Kolstad determined it would.

It’s Kolstad’s job to help Marshfield’s 779 physicians boost quality scores, based on standards for early preventive care, in ways that produce bonuses under the health care overhaul. She’s among about 250 people hired this year by the clinic, helping add to an annualized 5.4 percent third-quarter rise in health spending nationwide. That’s the fastest growth rate since 2002, according to Commerce Department data.

“We are heavily investing, partly because of national health care reform,” Marshfield’s president, Karl Ulrich, said in a telephone interview. Elements of the 2010 law that pay health systems more for quality care mean “we need to be more astute of how we’re taking care of patients.”

Of 238,000 U.S. jobs created in September and October, 57,000 were in health care, or about one in five, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The sector has led the nation in hiring since the recession began, adding 900,000 jobs from December 2007 through June 2011, said Charles Roehrig, director of the Center for Sustainable Health Spending in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Impact on jobs data

Unemployment would have been 10.6 percent in June, rather than 9.2 percent, without health-sector hiring, Roehrig wrote in a report.

Aiming to save money in the long run, lawmakers included coordinated-care programs in the 2010 health care law. Hospitals and doctors earn bonuses from Medicare based on how they perform on quality measurements, like whether heart attack victims and diabetes patients receive recommended treatments.

But in the short term, these provisions are driving new hiring that’s adding to the cost of care, health executives say. Additionally, job losses in other sectors have sent more people into emergency rooms as their health plans lapse and they can no longer afford private physicians, said Steve Taylor, a spokesman for the Seton Healthcare Family, a 10-hospital Catholic health system in Austin, Texas.

Seton added 1,235 employees in the year ended June 30, an 11.5 percent rise, to handle the added load, Taylor said in a telephone interview.

“The general economy here is somewhat reflective of the nation,” Taylor said. “We’ve got more uninsured, more underinsured. We are a hospital of last resort.”

Some publicly traded hospital chains have been similarly affected by the economy, as well as the growing complexity of new procedures and equipment that are added to hiring requirements, officials of those companies said.

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