Mar 8, 2024 - Health

Aging population puts pressure on health care labor

Illustration of a nurse walking with an elderly man.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Health care is uniquely vulnerable to worker shortages as the U.S. population ages over the next decade, according to a new Moody's analysis.

Why it matters: That means providers could face even higher costs in the coming years or, if positions go unfilled, some patients may go without the care they need.

The big picture: The growing portion of the population 65 and older is expected to place unique labor demands on health care compared with other parts of the economy.

  • Not only will retiring workers need to be replaced, but the greater number of seniors will also increase overall demand for health care.
  • "The health care and social assistance sector's outsized labor demand and highly labor-intensive operations represent an extraordinary test of labor market dynamics going forward," the Moody's analysts write.

By the numbers: The health care sector is expected to add 2.1 million jobs through 2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — 45% of all job growth in the next decade, the analysis notes.

  • Nurse practitioner employment is expected to see a growth rate of 45%, physician assistants by 27% and home health and personal care aides by 22%.
  • Patients and employers who provide health insurance to their employees will likely bear the brunt of rising costs, including labor costs, Moody's notes.

Between the lines: The greying of America will exacerbate tensions already on display today.

  • Providers and insurers are increasingly engaging in public disputes over price negotiations and coverage policies, like prior authorization, designed to keep costs in check.
  • Although staffing shortages have abated, hospitals complained for months about how much they were being forced to pay for contract labor.
  • And some of the subsectors expected to grow the most — like long-term care and home health care — are the same ones that struggle the most to attract and retain workers.

The bottom line: America's aging population is both a business crisis and a threat to patient care in the near future.

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