WV Center on Budget and Policy > Press > OpEds > Caitlin Cook: Congress Looks to Stifle One of Our Fastest Growing Industries

Caitlin Cook: Congress Looks to Stifle One of Our Fastest Growing Industries

July 28, 2017

Charleston Gazette-Mail – There’s an untold story of success in our state and local economies. During the last decade, unknown to many, an industry —– one with good paying jobs and benefits — was gaining steam all across the Mountain State, and more specifically in rural areas where other industries have since left (Story Link).

This industry has blossomed at a time when we needed it most — as our economy shifts and evolves into a more diverse one and as we continue to lay the groundwork for our new economy’s infrastructure. But we stand to lose much of the gains this industry — health care — has made with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Since 2008, total private sector jobs in West Virginia have declined by 4.1 percent, while health-care jobs have increased by 9 percent, according to a recent West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy report. The health care industry accounts for over 10 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and has grown five times faster than the rest of the economy since 2014, the report shows.

The health-care industry accounts for nearly one out-of-every five private sector jobs in West Virginia data from WorkForce West Virginia shows.

We are at a pivotal point. It is no secret that there are vast areas of improvements to be made in our nation’s health care system, but repealing the ACA will have far reaching economic consequences in the Mountain State.

Under the current proposals — the House’s American Health Care Act and the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act — our state stands to lose over 10,000 jobs and more than $1 billion in GDP. We simply cannot afford to stifle one of the fastest growing industries in our state. The health-care sector is projected to produce six of the top 10 occupations to add the most new jobs between 2012 and 2022, according to WorkForce West Virginia.

 The ACA and its Medicaid expansion provision provided an unexpected and much needed boost to our economy. According to the West Virginia Governor’s office, health-care industry GDP has grown five times faster than the state’s economy as a whole, and has outpaced the mining and utility industries.

In 2016, West Virginia’s average annual hospital employment was 40,254, with wages for those jobs totaling more than $2.1 billion. And according to the American Hospital Association, West Virginia’s hospitals have a $9.8 billion impact on the state’s economy.
The health care industry’s impact in our rural economies is even greater. Between 2008 and 2016, Morgan, Boone, Doddridge, Wirt, Clay, McDowell, Wyoming, Mingo, Barbour and Raleigh counties had the largest increases in the percentage of overall private sector jobs generated by the health-care sector, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. During that same timeframe, Boone, Clay, Wirt, McDowell, Wyoming and Mingo counties all experienced a major decline in total private sector employment.

The center’s report shows that the counties with the greatest concentration of health-care jobs are some of the least populated counties in the state.

While our state has great potential to recruit and grow new industries, it is overwhelmingly clear that we have a robust industry thriving right at home already: health care. Our Senators would do a great disservice to our people and economy by repealing the ACA and replacing it with either the American Health Care Act or Better Care Reconciliation Act.

The health care debate is also an economic one.