Economists urge less focus on health care jobs, more on cost-effectiveness

Although hospital officials warn that efforts to reduce health care spending could endanger jobs in the sector—one that’s growing in a time of high unemployment—two Harvard economists say the focus on these jobs is misguided. Instead, they wrote in a June 6, 2012 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) commentary, the question should be whether or not health care spending is providing the best care for the lowest cost.

“Salaries for health care jobs are not manufactured out of thin air,” wrote Katherine Baicker, professor of health economics at Harvard School of Public Health, and Amitabh Chandra of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “They are produced by someone paying higher taxes, a patient paying more for health care, or an employee taking home lower wages because higher health insurance premiums are dedicated from his or her paycheck.”

If health care money is being spent inefficiently—and statistics suggest this is indeed the case—then that money could be better spent on other things, the authors wrote. The result may be fewer health care jobs, but also higher wages for other workers or more money for other priorities, like education and infrastructure.

Read the NEJM Perspective

Read the Boston Globe article

Listen to WBUR’s interview with Baicker

Learn more

U.S. must focus health resources on high-value care to control rising health care spending (HSPH news)

Rising health care costs mean lower wages (HSPH news)