Retraining for what? Auto ripple effect hits hospitals ... and jobs

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DETROIT — “Hospitals brace for next hit” ran the headline in last week’s Detroit Free Press. The article cites soaring patient debt and free care for the uninsured as reasons for hospitals losing money.

What this means is that the ripple effect of job losses in the automotive industry is spreading.

Hospitals are treating higher numbers of uninsured patients, many recently unemployed from the auto industry who cannot afford to pay.

The “next hit” will take place July 1 when the state cuts Medicaid reimbursements by 4 percent for hospitals, nursing homes, Medicaid HMOs and mental health providers, to help balance a $1.4 billion state budget deficit — in a budget that has also been hit by the economic crisis.

How are hospitals “bracing” for the cuts? They are postponing construction projects and cutting their workforce, the Free Press reported.

That “cutting the hospital workforce” really got my attention.

In 2007, Gov. Jennifer Granholm helped initiate a retraining program — “No Worker Left Behind” — to provide up to two years of free tuition to unemployed workers. So far, more than 60,000 people have signed up.

Newspaper accounts have said jobs in the health care industry have become one of the most popular choices for former autoworkers because they pay well and are less vulnerable to being outsourced.

But if hospitals are also cutting back on hiring, where will those who are retraining for jobs in the medical field find work?

This gets back to the main problem. We cannot just shut down auto plants that will no longer produce cars. There are too few “new” jobs for people to find.

There needs to be a well thought out, planned program to provide jobs by retooling for other production, whether that is mass transit, high-speed rail cars, green products such as wind turbines and solar panels, or any number of products needed to rebuild our infrastructure.

But this situation also points out another problem. There are almost 50 million people without health care in our country, and of those 1.2 million are in Michigan, 12 percent of the state population. The numbers are increasing in Michigan of people putting off visits to the doctor or ordering their prescriptions but then not picking them up because they have no insurance or cannot afford the co-pay.

Hospitals should not be cutting back on hiring; the need is too great. We need a national health insurance plan that provides affordable health care for all and jobs for those being retrained!

jrummel @ pww.org