Growing demand for healthcare means that Montana is going to need 40 percent more healthcare workers in a decade than it has now. That’s according to University of Montana Economist Bryce Ward. He says that just to meet the projected growth in demand, the state will need 7,000 more healthcare workers by 2025.
"But at the same time we have a bunch of older healthcare workers that are likely to start leaving the system. So, not only are we going to need new, more people than we have currently, we’re going to have to have to replace a bunch of people that we already have."
Replacing retiring healthcare professionals will mean Montana will need to fill an additional 9,000 positions in the next decade. That adds up to a total of 16,000 additional healthcare workers that the state will need.
Ward spoke Tuesday at the release of the annual Montana economic outlook report put out by UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
He says there are three things driving the growth in demand for healthcare in Montana.
"So we have the insurance expansions under the Affordable Care Act, we have the aging of the population, and then we have healthcare innovation. Those are the things you’re going to look at to try to understand what’s going to happen in healthcare as we go forward."
The first one, insurance expansions under the Affordable Care Act, means that now that Americans are legally required to have healthcare, and Montana has expanded Medicaid, a lot more Montanans will have health insurance. And people who have insurance tend to use it, generating more healthcare demand.
When Ward talks about healthcare innovation, he means that as new treatments become available, they’ll draw more people in to get healthcare for conditions they’re struggling with now.
"The bigger trend is that Montana is getting older. This is the Baby Boom moving through the aging, life cycle process. So, almost a quarter of Montanans within 15 years will be over age 65. Not surprisingly, the older you are, the more healthcare you are likely to consume."
A lot more older Montanans, using a lot more healthcare, adds up to some serious economic impact.
"In the next 15 years we’re going to add $2.3 billion to Montana’s health care, just from aging people. That’s a 31 percent increase over where it was a few years ago. Just from aging."
Ward says that most of that economic boost will probably end up in the three Montana cities where the majority of healthcare jobs and services are already clustered: Billings, Great Falls and Missoula. But, he says, he’s also seeing potential for substantial growth in what are now smaller healthcare markets, including Bozeman.