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Our View: Hospitals’ impact

Updated: April 22, 2012 1:15AM

Just after the first of the year, Vista Health System CEO Barbara Martin testified before a congressional panel in Washington, D.C. One of the things Martin told policymakers was that hospitals are major contributors to local economies. Indeed, she pointed out that Vista Health System, with facilities across Lake County, employs more than 1,200 people and paid $2.5 million in property taxes to local taxing bodies.

Further, she said the health-care sector has been the one area in the U.S. economy that has remained constant. Hospitals nationwide employ more than 5.4 million people, are the second-largest source of private sector jobs, and spend more than $340 billion on goods and services from other businesses. ”

Statewide, Illinois’ 200 hospitals and health systems generate a total annual impact of $78.7 billion on the state’s economy, according to a new report released this week by the Illinois Hospital Association. The report outlines that in addition to providing vital medical and health-care services, Illinois hospitals are a source of steady, recession-proof and well-paying jobs employing more than 422,500 direct and indirect jobs. They are among the top three employers in nearly half of the state’s counties and are a key cornerstone of the local and state economy.

Hospitals’ impact on the state economy also includes uncompensated care; subsidization of money-losing services such as emergency and trauma care; medical research; education and training of health-care professionals; and underpayments for services to Medicare and Medicaid patients that they absorb.

So when government at the state and national levels begin talking about Medicaid cuts and property taxes on hospitals, not only health-care officials are taking notice, but so should Illinois residents and taxpayers. Such actions would harm one of the few sectors that has been creating jobs and could damage the state’s health-care system as well.

So far, Illinois has few “health-care deserts” but with a Legislature and governor looking for ways to increase revenue and cut spending, we all must be vigilant. Especially when a sector of the state economy is the sixth highest contributor to Illinois’ gross domestic product.

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