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Health Care is the Flathead’s ‘Engine of Growth’
Experts to speak on economic outlook at Feb. 15 seminar
A nurse begins her night shift at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
While economic recovery in the Flathead Valley after the recession has been slow going for most business sectors, the private health care sector has grown significantly, and looks to continue to do so in the future.

That’s the message from the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, and will be part of the overall 38th Annual Montana Economic Outlook 2013 presentation and seminar at the Hilton Garden Inn on Feb. 15.

This year’s seminar is titled, “The Best Medicine: How Can Montanans Take Charge of Changes in Health Care?” and will include a keynote address from Larry White, director of the Western Montana Area Health Education Center at the University of Montana, about the latest developments in health care.

The Economic Outlook seminar travels to Montana’s major cities, and will have city-specific information at each event. At Kalispell’s seminar, Gregg Davis, director of health care research for the BBER, will provide health care information about the Flathead.

According to Davis, who spoke with the Beacon last week, the health care industry in Flathead County has become a major economic force.

“Health care is an engine of growth up there,” Davis said.

Davis said he compiled information from quarterly census reports, which say the wage growth in the private sector grew at an annualized rate of 2.7 percent from 2005 through 2011.

But wages in the private health care sector grew at an annualized rate of 9 percent in that same time frame, Davis said.

In terms of employment, 2005 to 2011 is a pretty flat time for the Flathead, Davis said, but health care employment grew at 4 percent a year in those years. Other research concluded that in the past decade, Flathead County’s health care growth was the second fastest in the state, behind Gallatin County.

“The health care sector is really pulling the economy along,” Davis said.

And the growth is expected to continue in a big way, Davis said, when considering the Affordable Care Act and the potential Medicaid expansion within Montana. Flathead County has roughly 19,000 residents without health insurance, which is 20.5 percent of the population, he said.

“If Medicaid were to expand, about 7,000 of them would qualify,” Davis said, adding that others would likely qualify for tax credits on health insurance.

The big question will be whether the Flathead has enough medical providers to meet that added demand. Davis intends to cover that topic in his presentation, as well as provide more information on the ACA and Medicaid.

Having a solid health care industry is a major plus for any area when families or businesses are thinking of relocating, Davis said, or when seniors consider a retirement community.

“Things are happening in health care,” he said.

The rest of the seminar will cover the general economic outlook for the state, with a presentation from BBER director Patrick Barkey, and industry experts will provide outlooks for Montana’s biggest industries, including nonresident travel, agriculture, manufacturing and forest products.

For more information or to register for a seminar, call 406-243-5113 or visit the BBER website at www.bber.umt.edu.
On 02-04-13, thinker commented....
So, you’re saying if we all got sick it would fix the economy?
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