Healthcare hiring, pricing and spending are all falling, providing relief to and partially being driven by consumers, according to analysis released Thursday by think-tank Altarum Institute.
Though still the biggest contributor to national jobs growth, healthcare hiring is about two-thirds of what it was a year ago through the first five months of 2017, said Ani Turner, co-director of Altarum's Center for Sustainable Health Spending.
Healthcare job growth through the first five months of 2017 is averaging just under 22,000 jobs per month compared with 32,000 per month in each of 2015 and 2016, the data show. The 2017 slowdown is occurring in both hospitals and ambulatory care, Turner noted.
Even still, employment for people providing healthcare hit its highest share ever as a percentage of overall U.S. non-farm jobs at 10.75% in May.
Turner said healthcare demand keeps rising with the aging population and places like hospital emergency rooms must staff for peak demand even when business slows.
Hiring also is being clouded by Congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the uncertainty that loss of coverage for millions of Americans creates for future volumes, she said.
Healthcare spending and pricing also decellerated in April, with spending increasing by 4.4% year-over-year at the slowest pace since June 2016.
Turner said a plateauing in the number of insured people—following a surge from the ACA exchanges and Medicaid expansions in 32 states—is starting to slow overall spending.
Pricing in April also rose just 1.6% vs. the year-ago April, down from 1.9% in March, the data show. That slowing combined with the spending trend is bringing relief to employers and consumers, Altarum found.
Health spending is on track for less than 5% growth in 2017, ending three consecutive years of greater than 5% growth, said Dr. Charles Roehrig, founding director of Altarum's Center for Sustainable Health Spending.
Consumers are playing a big part in slowing healthcare pricing growth, said Paul Hughes-Cromwick, co-director of the center.
With consumers having to pay more out-of-pocket expenses in an era of high-deductible health insurance, they are increasingly asking whether generic drugs can replace brand name ones and questioning treatment plans, he said.
That's slowing prices, Hughes-Cromwick said.
For example, prescription drug prices that rose at 4% in April, 2016, had slowed to just over 3% in April, 2017, the Altarum analysis shows.