As plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act took center stage last month, job growth in the healthcare sector slowed significantly.
The industry produced 13,500 new jobs in March, which is much less than the 31,400 new positions created in February, according to the most recent jobs report issued Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Total employment in the sector is 15.65 million.
Healthcare reflected an overall slowdown in job creation for the entire economy compared to last month. Non-farm jobs grew by 98,000, disappointing analysts who predicted 180,000 jobs would be added in March.
On a brighter note, the unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 percentage points to 4.5% in March, and the number of unemployed declined by 326,000 to 7.2 million.
Healthcare led the charge in jobs growth throughout 2016, but construction has surpassed it last month, adding 17,000 jobs.
Within the healthcare sector, hospitals produced the most jobs with 8,700 new positions in March. Ambulatory care added 6,800 jobs.
In the first three months of this year, healthcare added an average of 20,000 jobs per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 32,000 in 2016.
The uncertainty created last month by efforts to repeal and replace the ACA with the American Health Care Act may have contributed to the hiring slump. Analysts predicted shortly after the election of President Trump that hiring in the healthcare sector would drop until hospitals and other providers had a better sense of how the administration would regulate the industry.
Healthcare job growth in 2016 was driven in part by the ACA, as more newly insured people sought out care. The AHCA was predicted to drive up the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million over the next decade.
A January report by the Commonwealth Fund found that repealing key provisions of the ACA, including the insurance premium tax credits and Medicaid expansion, could lead to 2.6 million people losing their jobs in 2019. By 2021, nearly 3 million jobs in healthcare and other sectors could be lost.