A GI Bill for Healthcare Workers
Our frontline healthcare workers are heroes, every bit as much as our military members. In recognition of their dedication, selflessness and sacrifice we should establish a program of educational support for them similar to the GI Bill. This program will invest in a group of people who have independently decided to serve us. What better investment than an investment in the people who have dedicated their professional lives to keeping us healthy? The program will not only help our healthcare workers but also our civic infrastructure — which could use it right now.
The GI Bill was the single most effective piece of post-WWII public policy. The GI Bill sent a generation of Americans to college who could not otherwise have afforded it. According to the Veterans Administration, after WWII 2.2 million veterans used the program to attend college and another 5.6 million received vocational training — this out of a total of approximately 11 million eligible veterans-a 51% take-rate. In so doing it created the modern US economy. The GI Bill’s primary virtue was its egalitarianism; in an age where most expected to live the lives their fathers did, the GI Bill changed everything. The program has been updated several times since its inception. As of January 2019, $12B of educational benefits have been provided to over 800,000 veterans or family members. Just as importantly, the GI Bill is a tangible demonstration the nation’s gratitude in a way that benefits the nation and the individual veteran — a win-win scenario on a national scale. Recognizing our healthcare workers presents exactly the same opportunity. These professionals are a motivated and talented group who have chosen to serve society. Creating a program like the GI Bill will help them help us by easing the financial burden of education, training and professional certifications. And, just as the GI Bill works as a powerful recruiting tool for the Pentagon, the new program will attract more young people to careers in medicine and healthcare.
The program should be permanent — not a temporary thank you for helping us through this rough patch — but a standing statement that, as a society, we value the sacrifice our healthcare workers make every day. In terms of scope, as a minimum the program should include tuition payments for new education and student loan relief for healthcare workers already finished with school or training. The program should provide a streamlined path to technical certifications and incentivize future healthcare workers in high school by offering to cover the cost of education in exchange for public service. Other provisions worthy of consideration are support for immigrants seeking to work in the healthcare industry. Today in the US, 29% of our doctors are foreign born and overall 17% of our healthcare workforce are immigrants. Providing an accelerated path to full citizenship for these heroes is certainly low-hanging political fruit.
Such a program would fit neatly into the existing portfolio of the Department of Health and Human Services. When considering the programs cost it’s fair to consider cost avoidance. The improved public health outcomes resulting from such a program will be in the billions annually. A 2018 study by the Milken Institute found the annual cost of obesity to the US to be $1.7T; approximately 9.3% of annual GDP. If a GI Bill for healthcare workers is able to improve health outcomes in the US by just 20%, it would represent a savings of $3.4B every year. The GI Bill made money for the US government, there is every reason to believe a similar program for healthcare workers will do the same.
Our healthcare workers are a national treasure we have too long taken for granted. They quietly sacrifice for us every day; the current health emergency has only served to highlight that sacrifice to average Americans. The GI Bill rewarded a segment of our society who sacrificed to serve the greater good. It also set the stage for the largest, most prolonged growth in American history. A program similar to the GI Bill for our healthcare workers will have many of the same positive effects on our society. The program should be permanent, flexible and designed to reward those currently serving in America’s hospitals and care facilities as well as young people pursuing a career in medicine and healthcare. The GI Bill paid back America’s investment by returning $7 to the economy for every $1 invested in the program. There is every reason to believe a similar program for our healthcare workers will deliver a similar return on investment. This is an easy decision. Invest in the best of us.