How Obamacare Is Changing Health Care Careers


The historic Affordable Care Act will change how many pay for medical treatment, but it will also alter the lives of people who work in the medical industry. Here are six careers that will likely see positive effects.

By Amy Howell Hirt

The Affordable Care Act which was signed by President Obama in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2012, is intended to provide more affordable, accessible and comprehensive health care and insurance coverage and options for Americans, including the 50 million people who were without health insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

But this momentous piece of legislation could also affect job prospects for people working in health care or considering a new career in the industry.

"The bulk of the Act involves access to care, and insurance coverage, so anyone in a hands-on caregiving role is going to be in huge demand," says Susan Odegaard Turner, a career counselor who released her fourth book, "Health Care Career Guide," last year.

As more people seek care for illnesses and injuries, as well as elective procedures, preventive screenings, and wellness care, the Act could reshape both clinical and non-clinical roles, Turner says.

Based on what industry experts and reports are saying about the Act, here are a few health care careers that might just benefit from "Obamacare."

Career #1: Medical Assistant

In a primary-care office - that of a physician, chiropractor, or podiatrist, for example - a medical assistant might schedule appointments for patients, take their vital signs and medical history, and may prepare blood for laboratory tests, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Obamacare Effect: According to the California HealthCare Foundation's 2011 report titled "Primary Care, Everywhere," the Act will bring "a surge in demand for primary care," which could mean increased demand for medical assistants, says Dorothy Wax, senior director of career services and human resources at The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

Click to Find the Right Medical Assisting Program.

"We're anticipating that people who used to go to the emergency room for everything will go to a family doctor, and those offices will have to staff up. And that's where medical assistants come in," Wax says.

Career #2: Dental Assistant

Dental assistants help with many of the services offered in regular dental check-ups - including sterilizing instruments, preparing patients, and assisting dentists, says the U.S. Department of Labor. They might do everything from handing instruments to a dentist during a procedure, to scheduling appointments and working on billing and payment.

The Obamacare Effect: While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not address adult dental benefits, it will bring dental insurance to approximately three million children by 2018, according to the American Dental Association. And it could bring the need for more dental assistants, Turner says.

Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program.

How will the profession feel the ripples of health care reform? If the ACA brings an increase in patients, says Turner, it could also mean more dental assistants will be needed to meet the demand.

Career #3: Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians are often responsible for obtaining prescription information from customers or health professionals, as well as counting, measuring, and packaging individual prescriptions, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Obamacare Effect: The effects of the Affordable Care Act could reshape many aspects of health care - even extending into the profession of pharmacy technicians.

Click to Find the Right Pharmacy Technician Program.

The ACA will call upon pharmacists to serve as part of a "larger, integrated health care team," says Ronna Hauser, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for the National Community Pharmacists Association. That, in turn, will create "an increased role for techs, as pharmacists take on more patient care opportunities."

Career #4: Physical Therapy Assistant

A physical therapy assistant, working under the direction of a physical therapist, might help a patient regain movement and manage their pain after a surgery, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Duties typically include helping patients perform exercises, monitoring their progress, and providing education about what to do after treatment, the Department of Labor notes.

The Obamacare Effect: Because the ACA considers "rehabilitation" to be an "essential benefit" that must be covered by insurance, physical therapy assistants who help provide these services could see an uptick in opportunities.

Click to Find the Right Physical Therapy Program.

With expanded insurance coverage, Turner expects more boomers and others to undergo elective procedures, such as hip or shoulder replacements, which typically require some type of physical rehabilitation afterward.

Career #5: Medical Records and Health Information Technician

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, medical records and health information technicians are responsible for a variety of duties related to the management of these important records, including reviewing patient documents for accuracy, maintaining medical databases, and using software to assign clinical codes.

The Obamacare Effect: Medical records and health information technicians are already in demand, Turner says, and the ACA could create an even greater need.

Click to Find the Right Medical Records and Health Information Technician Program.

The ACA "requires health plans to begin adopting and implementing rules for the secure, confidential, electronic exchange of health information," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Which explains why Turner believes that "anyone who has a foot in both the clinical and technology areas will be in need" to implement the conversion to electronic health records (EHRs).

Career #6: Health Services Manager

A medical and health services manager could be in charge of an entire facility, notes the U.S. Department of Labor, or a specific department. They might ensure the center's compliance with new regulations, monitor and work to improve the quality of care, or supervise assistant administrators.

The Obamacare Effect: The Affordable Care Act will support the creation of 245 new community health centers through 2014, according to a May 2012 report issued by the White House called "The Obama Administration and Community Health Centers." And who might supervise these clinics? You guessed it: health services managers.

Click to Find the Right Health Services Manager Program.

"A lot more positions will pop up," says Turner. "You'll see a lot more health services managers in the community (health centers) than you do now." So the math makes sense. With more health centers and clinics comes the need for more managers.

Career #7: Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

By using special equipment to send sound waves into a patient's body, medical sonographers are able to diagnose various medical issues. In addition to operating and maintaining the equipment, these medical professionals evaluate images and record their findings for physicians.

The Obamacare Effect: The specialized training that's required to be a diagnostic medical sonographer already makes it a hard-to-fill position, Turner says, but the demand for these professionals will likely grow as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.

Click to Find the Right Medical Sonography Program.

The Act includes coverage for diagnostic and preventive screenings, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The effect of this expanded coverage will likely result in more people seeking these services, says Turner. But the imaging equipment used to diagnose medical conditions needs human operators, which is why Turner sees the changes from the ACA ultimately translating into more jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers.

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