The outsize economic role of the American health care industry heightens the risks posed by the Republicans’ effort in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010 under President Barack Obama, and it comes at a delicate moment for the broader economy.
While the government reported Friday that unemployment was at its lowest point in more than a decade, the health care industry has been an engine for much of that hiring, adding jobs at more than three times the rate of the rest of the economy since 2007.
Nor is the growth limited to hospitals. With help from the vast expansion of Medicaid enrollment that began three years ago, nursing homes, outpatient centers and medical labs have also grown, turning a fragmented industry into a strong political force.
Governors on both sides of the aisle, as well as many moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill, have expressed concern over whether the repeal will hurt local economies, especially in places where health care has softened the blow from struggling industries like retailing now or manufacturing in the past.
Moreover, in a recovery plagued by uneven growth and widening income inequality, the sector has been a reliable source of steady gains. Health care now equals almost one-fifth of gross domestic product, up from 13 percent in 2000, and it is poised to leapfrog retailing and leisure and hospitality as the second-largest source of overall employment, after professional and business services, accounting for one in eight private sector jobs.
The boom in health care did not begin with the Affordable Care Act. The industry was among the only parts of the economy to emerge relatively unscathed from the Great Recession, and it has flourished under Democratic and Republican presidents alike.
“Demographics and the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid in…