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News | Healthcare Business Trends

Healthcare News of Note: U.S. will be short 3.2 million lower-wage healthcare workers within 5 years, says Mercer

News | Healthcare Business Trends

Healthcare News of Note: U.S. will be short 3.2 million lower-wage healthcare workers within 5 years, says Mercer

  • Within the next five years, the U.S. will be short about 3.2 million lower-wage healthcare workers such as medical assistants, home health aides and nursing assistants.
  • The majority of healthcare professionals surveyed in July are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the amount of personal health information being communicated via unsecure or personal communication tools.
  • Various factors are spurring expected health insurance premium rate changes for 2022, including the costs and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, I have found these industry news stories that should be of interest to healthcare finance professionals.

1. Mercer: Substantial shortage of critical lower-wage healthcare workers predicted within five years

The U.S. will be short 3.2 million lower-wage healthcare workers, such as medical assistants, home health aides and nursing assistants, within the next five years, according to Mercer’s "U.S. healthcare labor market" report.

Overall, this shortage is expected to “limit access to home care,” while “New York and California will feel the effects of the labor shortage most acutely, each projected to fall short by 500,000 as soon as 2026,” the authors wrote. National recruitment of workers “may prove fruitful” from states with lower demand, such as Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, and states where lower-wage earners are still entering the market, such as Washington, according to the report.

“Prior to the pandemic, healthcare talent shortages were driven by a population that was trending older, sicker and more sedentary,” wrote authors of a Sept. 30 Mercer blog post.

“But now, hospitals and healthcare systems have to contend with additional influences,” such as healthcare professionals leaving the profession at an accelerated rate, the blog authors wrote. “In part, the increased departure rate is due to an aging population — but the exhaustion and burnout our healthcare and pharmacy providers have endured because of COVID-19 is a direct contributor.”

Additional findings

Other key points in the report include:

  • Primary care will increasingly be provided by nonphysicians as “demand for primary care physicians will grow by 4% over the next five years, and the numbers of physicians retiring due to the age of the workforce” increase. This means that “more often physician assistants and nurse practitioners will step into fill that demand” since both PAs and NPs “are considerably younger professions” and “40,000 new PAs and NPs enter the workforce annually.”
  • There will be surpluses of nursing talent in some areas of the South and Southwest but shortages of nurses in 29 states, with the “largest projected shortages in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado, Illinois, and Massachusetts.”
  • A deficit of 510,000 mental health workers will emerge by 2026 as 400,000 leave the profession in the next five years and increased demand for mental health services creates a need for 100,000 more mental health workers. Although 27 states are projected to be unable to meet the total hiring demand, there are surpluses of mental health workers predicted in 23 states during the same period.

2. Survey: Healthcare professionals concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on PHI security protocols and burnout levels

The majority of healthcare professionals surveyed in July expressed concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased both the amount of personal health information (PHI) being communicated via unsecure or personal communication tools and levels of burnout among healthcare professionals, according to a new report by Spok Inc.

Spok’s “State of Healthcare Communications” 2021 report provided more details on these findings.

Nearly 81% of those surveyed felt the pandemic impacted unsecure communications, while 19% said it had no impact.

“Unfortunately, the situation has affected many organizations’ ability to make progress on long-planned communication technology projects. Likewise, physicians, nurses, and other care team members have needed to modify existing workflows, and administrators have had to adjust policies and procedures,” the authors wrote.

In fact, 48% of respondents indicated that IT communications projects were paused during the pandemic, with 43% of that group expecting to resume implementing those projects in the next six months.

“Hospitals and health systems may need to bolster initiatives to meet HIPAA standards for PHI protection and to avoid noncompliance, reputational harm, and serious financial penalties,” the authors wrote.

Approximately 92% of respondents believe levels of burnout have increased at least moderately since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, 41%  of respondents say burnout has increased considerably, and 28% say it has increased a great deal, 23% moderately and 7% slightly.

The report also detailed how segments of those surveyed feel the level of burnout has increased since early 2020, with administrators also having “fallen victim to increasing stress levels,” as seen below:

  • 60% of clinical executives surveyed said levels of burnout increased a “great deal,” compared with 35% of physicians, nurses and clinicians, 33% of IT executives, 9% of IT staff and 21% of contact center staff
  • 66% of IT executives reported levels of burnout increased “at least considerably,” as did 65% of physicians, nurses or other clinicians
  • 100% of contact center staff members reported burnout has increased “at least moderately,” with 50% saying it increased “at least considerably” and none saying “slightly”
  • 17% of IT executives comprised the only respondents in any segment who felt levels of burnout had not increased at all

More than 200 executives, physicians, nurses, IT personnel, contact center representatives and others from around the U.S. responded to the survey.

3. American Academy of Actuaries: What’s behind the expected health insurance premium rate changes for 2022

An issue brief on what’s behind the expected health insurance premium rate changes for 2022 “focuses  on how the costs and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are figuring into insurers' proposed 2022 rates,” according to a Sept. 2 American Academy of Actuaries press release.

“Insurer premium rate filings for approval by regulators for 2022 are generally based on the last full year of claims experience, 2020, with adjustments,” said Cori Uccello, senior health fellow with the academy.

“Carriers' premium rates may include adjustments due to COVID-related or non-COVID-related costs and utilization that are expected to be different from that base year."

Key conclusions of the issue brief, which was developed by the academy's Individual and Small Group Markets Committee, include:

  • As more information is available on how COVID-19 has affected and could continue to affect healthcare spending, carriers are more likely to include adjustments in their 2022 rates. Nevertheless, those impacts are not expected to be material.
  • Issues surrounding the pandemic continue to be a consideration for rate setting, including the effect on regional variations in hospital utilization, the cost of vaccinations and need for booster shots, how and where members seek or delay medical care, and utilization of mental health services and telemedicine.
  • Uncertainties remain regarding how the potential end of the public health emergency and the enhanced premium subsidies available through the American Rescue Plan Act will affect plan enrollment and spending.

HFMA Bonus Content

In this Q&A, learn what Mayo Clinic’s Sean C. Dowdy, MD, says about the system’s COVID-19 modeling efforts and what healthcare professionals can do to stay safe when traveling and attending in-person conferences.

HFMA’s 2021 Annual Conference, which takes place Nov. 8-10 in Minneapolis, is open for registration.

Read "Workforce of the Future," part 2 of 4 in our "Healthcare 2030," series, where we review how the workforce is changing and will continue to evolve throughout this decade. As clinical staff shortages continue and burnout issues accelerate, the need for solutions has never been greater.

About the Author

Deborah Filipek

is a senior editor at HFMA, Westchester, Ill. 

Sign up for a free guest account and get access to five free articles every month.

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