Someone recently asked me what my greatest hope for the Obama Administration is, and what my greatest fear might be. My greatest hope (from where I sit) is easy – that once he is sworn in, President Obama will tackle healthcare reform and provide healthcare coverage to the 43 million-plus Americans who do not have healthcare coverage. It seems to me that it was one of his top priorities as he ran for office, and I recall that exit polling showed that the need for healthcare reform was tied for third in terms of the issues most on voter’s minds as they cast their ballots for president.
My greatest fear is that his Administration will be so consumed with our nation’s economic woes that he won’t get to healthcare reform. But the irony is that tackling healthcare reform is essential to our nation’s economic recovery. Healthcare is 15 percent of the gross domestic product nationally. Hospitals are often the largest employer in the communities in which they serve. In New Jersey, healthcare is the state’s second largest source of jobs, with hospitals alone employing close to 150,000 New Jerseyans in full-time and part-time positions. All told, New Jersey hospitals are economic engines that pump billions of dollars in salaries, income taxes and purchased goods and services into the state’s economy.
But beyond the dollars and cents, hospitals serve as the safety net for all of those who lack health insurance. State law mandates that hospitals provide care (we call it charity care) to those who don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to pay. As the unemployment figures continue to rise in our state, that hospital safety net becomes even more essential.
So… hospitals provide jobs and add billions of dollars to the state economy, all while providing a vital service to all our residents. That, to me, makes hospitals an essential component of any economic recovery.