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Decline expected as healthcare slows, but hospital work will remain steady

Decline expected as healthcare slows, but hospital work will remain steady

By Jim Haughey, BD+C Economist and Chief Economist with Reed Construction Data | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200908 issue of BD+C.

The once steady 10% growth rate in healthcare construction spending has slowed, but hasn't entirely stopped.

Spending is currently 1.7% higher than the same time last year when construction materials costs were 8% higher. The 2.5% monthly jobsite spending decline since last fall is consistent with the decline in materials costs. A 7% decline is expected in the next six months, consistent with the year-to-date drop in the value of healthcare construction starts, which includes a 66% plunge in June.

The June drop is partly random but also reflects concern by healthcare project managers about how the outcome of the current healthcare debate in Congress will affect their operations. Specifically, they are concerned about reimbursement rates from federally operated or regulated insurance plans. With no final plan ready for a vote in early August, expect the cautious spending to continue through the summer.

Healthcare construction spending is currently 1.7% higher than the same time last year, led by hospital work, which is 14% higher than a year ago.

All options being considered in Washington envision expanded healthcare services that would require additional facility capacity by 2011—but financing for the expanded services remains fuzzy. Half the added cost appears to be vague promises of $40 billion plus annual fee cuts by hospitals and drug companies. Significant growth in healthcare construction will not resume until the healthcare financing arrangements are final and judged to be realistic.

Hospital construction spending is currently 14% higher than a year ago, while spending for other healthcare facilities, including specialized office buildings and residential care facilities, is off 25% from last year. The developers of these buildings react to a recession much as developers of commercial buildings do: They pull back when they see falling rental and occupancy rates. By this time next year, expect spending for medical office buildings and possible residential care facilities to be expanding again in a growing economy while spending for hospitals is expected to still be stuck at current levels.

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