Wednesday, May 24, 2006

US nursing gets it between the eyes

When rural areas had trouble recruiting physicians, economists would predict that benefits and salaries would rise. Instead visa rules were waived and foreign physicians filled the gaps for the existing wages. This is one of several reasons that American medical school graduates avoid primary care.

That was a love tap, however, compared to the shot aimed at US nurses. The Senate immigration legislation removes the limit on the number of foreign nurses who can immigrate to the US. Completely removes it.

The gates opened a while back, with about 50,000 nursing visas being used from 2005 to 2007. That's a lot of nurses. With the new rules the number is expected to increase by about 10% a year, reaching up to 100,000 nurses/year by 2014.

It would take very good data to persuade me that this kind of influx is not going to stabilize or reduce nursing compensation in the US. In the absence of this resource US payors would have had to increase benefits and compensation, and improve work conditions and career development, to fill empty slots. That costs money, so healthcare costs would rise. With this foreign resource, the US gets a supply of nurses with no training costs willing to work for lower wages.

A net gain for healthcare and for the US economy - sure. Great news for the immigrants and probably for their families. Good news for the hospitals that paid off the Senators through campaign contributions and PAC contributions. Bad news for their host countries and awful news for any US grad considering a career in nursing.

Tell me again how immigration does not impact workers in the US? Let the debate continue.

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