How the Affordable Care Act is Creating a Healthcare Job Boom

The Affordable Care Act, (ACA), is a health care reform bill that Congress passed into law on June 25, 2010. The major provisions of the law required: everyone to have health insurance, reform of health insurance practices, and low-cost options for people of limited means. As a result, the health care industry is booming, and will continue to grow as the decade progresses.

This article will look at the ACA's effects in four aspects: job growth in the health care industry as a whole, the increased demand for medical services, the increased demand for health insurance services, and lastly, the employment effects of switching to electronic medical records and the ICD-10 coding system.

Job Growth in the Health Care Sector

From 2000 to 2010, health care employment grew by 25 percent, even while the rest of the job market was languishing at a minuscule two percent for that same period. Furthermore, during that period, the health care industry employed more than 13 percent of the American labor force. That's an astounding 19 million out of 143 million jobs. Most experts agree the ACA will boost that growth during the next decade. In fact the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that health care employment will increase by 26 percent between 2013 and 2022.

A prime example of this growth is happening now in the state of Arizona. The southwestern state is experiencing strong job growth across the board, despite having been hit particularly hard during the Great Recession. Most of it, 15 percent over the last year, has been in the health care industry with the majority occurring in doctors' offices, clinics and outpatient surgical centers. The state estimates that prior to the ACA coming into effect, 20.4 percent of Arizonans were uninsured. That number has dropped to 17.2 percent.


Increased Demand for Medical Services

nurses checking on patient b&w

Image via Flickr by Seattle Municipal Archives

The expected increase in demand will occur for three reasons: 

1. The individual mandate portion of the ACA requires that everyone have health insurance.

2. The baby boomers are getting older. Growth in the 65 and older age group will increase by 40 percent between 2012 and 2022, fastest of any age group. This group consumes more medical services than younger age groups.

3. The population is increasing. By 2022, it will grow by 9 percent.

Since doctors require a long time to develop their skills and knowledge, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates an increased demand for competent non-doctor medical providers. Physician's assistants fall into this category. They can prescribe medication and do medical examinations, two critical aspects of patient care. The BLS estimates that employment for physician's assistants will grow by 38 percent between 2012 and 2022.

Increased Demand for Health Insurance Services

While doctors and nurses will always be in demand, you don't have to choose either role in order to benefit from the health care boom. Health insurance professionals will also be needed. In fact, the ACA has created an entirely new job - the health care navigator. The federal government has made over $64 million in grants to local governments to employ people in this new position. Navigators help people obtain insurance through the new insurance marketplaces. The goal of the navigator is to educate the public on the ACA and help them find the best insurance coverage.

More traditional insurance roles, such as insurance sales agents and customer service representatives will also be needed as 33 million Americans shop for health coverage. For example, to meet this need, Blue Cross has opened several retail stores from which to sell health insurance to the public. Another example is the ramping up of Federal Medicare and Medicaid call centers which have added up to 9,000 customer service representatives to field incoming calls from curious citizens.

Closely related to the insurance aspect is the legal profession, which will also experience a boost from the ACA. The 900 page law with its myriad regulations will require attorneys to interpret it. Although the United States is awash in lawyers, many will find work with health insurers, hospitals, and medical malpractice carriers as they struggle to understand the complex law.

Employment Effects of the ICD-10 Coding System and Electronic Records Requirements

Another large piece of the ACA legislation requires that doctors' offices and hospitals move to electronic medical records and that they switch their billing systems from ICD-9 to the more complex ICD-10 system.

Since doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals must implement electronic medical records, they will need to hire information technology professionals to get the job done. Along with system administrators to make sure that the network functions properly, health informatics technicians will work with doctors and nurses to create electronic databases of patient medical records. Another concern that will need addressing is how to maintain patient privacy while ensuring that doctors in other locations have access to a patient's medical history.

Finally, experts expect that the move to the ICD-10 system for medical bill coding will increase the demand for medical coders. They estimate that coders will need as much as 30 minutes to code an average outpatient chart while an inpatient chart will require an hour or more. This is because ICD-10 is a much more specific system. It requires more knowledge of medical terminology as well as other related fields of study. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical coding jobs will grow by 22 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Contrary to the popular belief that the ACA would have catastrophic effects on U.S. jobs, the health care law has caused a health care job boom across the country, especially in states such as Arizona. It may be what it takes to propel the country completely out of the economic doldrums we've been mired in since the recession hit in 2007/2008. Whether you want to become a doctor, or try on the new position of health care navigator, the ACA could be your ticket to a rewarding career.

Contributed to by Kim Evans

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