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Study: Health care is largest industry in Montana, housing affecting costs
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Study: Health care is largest industry in Montana, housing affecting costs

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Health care is the largest industry in Montana, accounting for a larger share of total state jobs and total wages paid than any other sector, according to a new report.

Hospitals in particular support roughly 12% of the state’s private sector employment and 13% of total private sector wages, per the study from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana.

“Hospitals are a huge economic driver,” said Patrick Barkey, the director of the bureau. “Their presence in the economy on a statewide basis supports over 83,000 permanent year-round jobs and $6.3 billion in income to Montana households statewide.”

The Montana Hospital Association paid for the analysis and held a news conference Wednesday to release the details.

“Local hospitals are either the largest or one of the largest employers in their communities, paying wages that are higher than most other industries on average,” said Rich Rasmussen, the CEO of the association. "Additionally, hospitals’ demand for goods and services creates a significant number of jobs outside the hospital facility, roughly two additional jobs in Montana for every hospital job.”

Rasmussen noted that two of the issues his organization is focused on right now are housing costs and avoiding a federal repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

High housing costs have forced many hospitals in Montana to raise the rates they pay to traveling nurses and certified nursing assistants, he said. That means hospitals have to pass those costs onto patients.

“The high cost of housing drives up costs everywhere,” Rasmussen said. “High housing costs drive up the costs of health care. We’re looking at policies to see what is the best way to address our housing crunch.”

The Affordable Care Act helped reduce Montana’s uninsured rate from 20% in 2013 to roughly 10% in 2020, he noted. His organization is keeping an eye on any legislation that aims to weaken or repeal that law.

“The Affordable Care Act has allowed us to reduce (the uninsured rate) to historic lows,” he said.

Take a look at a few small Montana towns that you might not have known existed.

The report also found that the health care industry is the top private-sector employer in Missoula County.

In 2019, Providence St. Patrick Hospital paid its 1,656 employees a total payroll of $81.1 million, roughly 1.9% of total county earnings.

Community Medical Center paid 1,216 employees $64.6 million, about 1.5% of county earnings.

Community Medical Center paid more than $5.5 million in taxes in 2020 and is in the midst of a $13.5 million expansion and remodel of its emergency room. The project will double the facility’s size to over 11,000 square feet and create an indoor space for paramedics to unload ambulance patients.

“This expansion is allowing us to continue investing in needed care for the community, despite negative impacts to (the hospital) from a reduction in elective procedures during COVID,” said Jim Gillhouse, the chief operating officer at Community.

The hospital has also hired local engineering and construction firms for the project, which is expected to be complete late next year, Gillhouse said.

To download the full report on Montana hospitals, go to bit.ly/3gl2RAW.

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