And Now, a Health-Care Downturn?

A strong dose of fear can either motivate or paralyze. And there’s plenty of fear-peddling these days, especially when it comes to the economy and health care. There are fiscal cliffs, trillion-dollar deficits no one knows how to repay and now Medicare cuts potentially adding another half million to the unemployment ranks in 2013.

That last nugget comes courtesy of the American Medical Association and its industry partners. The group announced last month that a study funded by the American Hospital Association says 496,000 U.S. health-care jobs could be lost as a result of looming Medicare cuts. Those 2 percent, across-the-board cuts would start Jan. 1, if a divided Congress can’t agree on a budget. The Medicare cuts are one of the many Jan. 1 tax and policy time bombs set to go off, and they’ll probably be a small part of a much bigger problem if Democrats and Republicans can’t play nice.

Chris Cochran, an associate professor and chair of UNLV’s Department of Health Care Administration and Policy, has seen this talk from the AMA time and again. After all, this is the same group that has been alarming us with fear of socialized medicine since the 1930s, the same group that advocated against Medicare in the 1960s and so on. The professor is not convinced the numbers will be as great as the AMA would have us believe, should the cuts even happen.

“In order to get support, they have to give you the worst-case scenario,” he says, adding that Medicare cuts have a long history of being ironed out at the 11th hour.

“I don’t think anyone in Congress wants to end up not having a budget,” he says. “That could ultimately send us into another recession.”