Across the industry, hospital jobs so far in 2017 grew by 8,775 monthly on average, compared to 11,413 jobs for the same period last year, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows.
The Republican-proposed bill, set to come before the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday for a vote, would unwind the Medicaid expansion, cap federal payments to states and replace Obamacare’s income-based tax credits with flat age-based credits. The bill would still need approval in the Senate if it clears the House this week.
When asked about the early signs of hospitals putting spending on hold, a White House spokesperson expressed confidence that “the disastrous Obamacare law will be replaced with the American Health Care Act – the vehicle which will reform our broken healthcare system.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the new proposal would cause 14 million people to lose health insurance next year and 24 million by 2026. The bill has divided House and Senate Republicans and sparked fierce criticism from Democrats and leading medical and hospital groups, including the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association.
“It’s very challenging to plan for your future in an environment like this,” said Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy at America’s Essential Hospitals, a group that represents safety-net hospitals nationally.
Not all hospitals are on hold. Some healthcare groups in areas with growing populations, such as Atlanta and Houston, are pushing ahead with capital expansion projects. Others, such as Maryland’s Prince George’s County, are still planning to move forward with construction plans, thanks in part to a partnership with the University of Maryland Medical System.
With the new medical center, Prince George’s County hopes to end its long-time reliance on $30 million annually from public subsidies to help cover operations. But that goal assumed Obamacare would remain intact, said Thomas Himler, Prince George’s deputy chief administrative officer.
“It could be that three years out we are no longer making money, we are losing money,” said Himler.
The uncertainty has seeped into the municipal bond market, where nonprofit hospitals access capital. The sector sold 36 percent less debt for new projects so far in 2017, compared to the same period last year, while the rest of the municipal market increased the amount of new money issued by 23 percent, Thomson Reuters data shows. While municipal analysts say it’s too early to draw conclusions, the uncertainty surrounding Obamacare is a likely cause for the decline.