Bryant University economics professor Sam Mirmirani is a believer in health care’s growing role in the expansion of the local economy, and has the numbers to back it up.
As a percentage of the state’s total labor force, health care represents 9.3 percent, slightly higher than the national figure of 9 percent. “Health care is a huge part of [the state’s] economy in terms of employment,” he said.
An estimated 10.3 percent of the state’s GDP is spent on health care. While the New England average is slightly less, the national average is 17.6 percent, according to Medicare figures. “It is almost a $3 trillion industry, the largest sector of the economy; it used to be defense,” he said, during a panel discussion at Bryant’s third annual Rhode Island Economic Conference held March 13.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the health care industry is the fastest-growing and largest field of employment in the nation. Employment in all areas of health care, from positions ranging from physician’s assistants to diagnostic managers of new technology is expected to experience a 16 percent growth rate across the nation until at least 2018.
And Rhode Island stands to benefit, he said.
Rhode Island utilizes the same percentage of physicians per 1,000 people as the rest of
New England – 3.6 – a figure well above the national average of 2.6. However, New England as a whole employs considerably more physician assistants on a percentage basis, 0.39 per 1,000 people, than Rhode Island or the rest of the nation, both at 0.27 per 1,000. “A lot of states have filed for accreditation of educational programs to train for physician assistants and there is a huge backlog,” Mirmirani said. “That’s a huge market.”
And “health care informatics is going to be one of the top career choices nationally,” he said. Informatics, or the managing of information, is a result of the new and continuously expanding field of health-information technology.
“If there is any hope for generating new jobs for Rhode Island, it will be in the area of informatics and medical managers,” he said.
Fellow panel members Christopher F. Koller, the state’s health insurance commissioner, and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts acknowledged the growing need but were more cautious about job creation. Both are members of the Rhode Island Healthcare Reform Commission, formed in January 2011 to evaluate options for job growth as well as better and more affordable health care.