Yet opposition from the healthcare sector is muted. The major hospital associations have remained on the sidelines during recent debates, and even the National Association of Home Care & Hospice, which last year fought extending the overtime provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act to its workers, is not opposed to a minimum wage increase per se. It says the government should provide adequate funding for its members' services so they can afford an increase.
An instructive American College of Healthcare Executives' poll out last week identified financial challenges as the No. 1 concern of hospital CEOs for the 10th straight year. But in their ranking of the issues that keep them up at night, 85% checked government funding cuts as their No. 1 concern followed by Medicaid reimbursement (81%), declining Medicare reimbursement (81%), bad debt (67%) and decreasing impatient volume (64%). Only half worried about the increasing cost for staff and supplies, which together account for two-thirds of overall provider costs.
Economists endlessly debate the impact of raising the minimum wage on jobs. Some argue employers will respond by hiring fewer low-wage workers. Others say its effect on employment is neutral.
One thing both sides agree on is that employers—including those in healthcare—when faced with a rising wage tab look for ways to improve productivity to offset their increased labor costs. That's a good thing because rising productivity is what drives higher living standards for workers in every sector of the economy.
Healthcare providers today are engaged across the board in efforts to increase the quality of the care they deliver while lowering costs. Increasing the productivity of labor at every level of their organizations is crucial to that effort.
There's no doubt raising the minimum wage may cause some short-term pain in some parts of the industry. But if it spurs on greater efforts to become more productive—think of substituting tele-monitoring for round-the-clock home health aides, for instance—the long-term benefits will more than offset the costs.
It will benefit those organizations as they streamline their operations to more productively deliver higher- quality care. And it will benefit low-wage workers, who may be slightly fewer in number but will have slightly higher pay.
Follow Merrill Goozner on Twitter: @MHgoozner