Benefis Health System Has a Healthy Economic Impact on Cascade County

Benefis Health System is undoubtedly an integral part of the Great Falls community, employing thousands of people and offering Northcentral Montana residents access to quality healthcare services across a variety of specialties. Translating that significance into a quantified economic impact gives a better sense of the true value Benefis brings to Cascade County. The University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research recently completed a study detailing that impact, and the following article outlines the study’s findings.

In understanding the economic impact of Benefis, it is first important to understand the organization’s overall size. In 2017, Benefis employed 3,133 full and part-time employees. That number represented 45.6 percent of healthcare employees in Cascade County, and 8.8 percent of all employees in the county. During that same time period, Benefis paid out $198 million in total wages, which represents 61.5 percent of healthcare wages earned in Cascade County and 13.9 percent of all wages earned in the county. These wages and employment opportunities all provide considerable value to Cascade County.

Beyond its substantial direct impact, Benefis also has an indirect impact on Cascade County’s economy. Benefis employees and patients visiting from outside the area to receive care generate demand for goods and services above and beyond just healthcare. When accounting for the indirect impact of this demand on the region’s overall economy, the University of Montana study concluded that Benefis accounts for 6,600 jobs in Northcentral Montana.

The study also concluded that if Benefis disappeared, and was not replaced, personal income in Northcentral Montana would decrease by $498 million and regional output would decrease by $972 million. In reality, these estimates are very conservative. They do not account for the fact that if obtaining healthcare required extensive travel, many people and businesses would not even locate in Cascade County, meaning that regional output would decrease by substantially more than the projected $972 million.

A study of the economic impact of Benefis on Cascade County would not be complete without an analysis of the revenue Benefis brings into the county from outside sources. In 2017, Benefis brought approximately $136 million into the county from outside sources. The majority of this revenue (75 percent) came from patients in other counties and states, who represent one-third of Benefis’ patients. A portion of this revenue also came from out-of-area visitor spending accompanying those patients’ visits to Great Falls, and the remaining portion represented Medicare and Medicaid spending net of taxes paid by Montanans.

Non-resident spending at Benefis supports 728 jobs, a number equal to 87.1 percent the size of Cascade County’s arts, entertainment, and recreation sector employees. Another way to assess the scale of those 728 jobs is to compare them to Cascade County’s manufacturing sector; those jobs equate to 66.2 percent the size of the county’s manufacturing sector, which employs 1,100 individuals.

Cascade County residents enjoy great health outcomes, good facilities, and lower-than-average healthcare spending, indicating that Benefis and the rest of Cascade County’s healthcare options generate good value relative to other parts of the United States. Benefis receives good quality ratings from the federal government, and life expectancy at age 40 is longer in Cascade County than the United States overall. Further, spending per Medicare beneficiary in the Great Falls region ranks in the bottom 10 percent in the nation.

In addition to the current value Benefis provides to Cascade County, healthcare continues to be one of the county’s fastest growing industries. Since 1990, healthcare employment in Cascade County has grown by 62 percent despite the county’s overall employment remaining fairly constant. During the same period, healthcare wages in Cascade County grew by 105 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis.

National healthcare employment growth is expected to exceed the projected growth rate for every other industry, with a projected 19 percent growth rate between 2016 and 2026. That level of growth in Cascade County’s healthcare sector would represent an additional 1,300 jobs by 2026.

In summary, Cascade County derives extensive value from Benefis Health System, and as the system continues to grow, that value will only increase. Benefis’ ongoing stability is crucial given its importance to the whole county. As regulatory pressures continue to threaten health systems nationwide, Benefis, with the help and support of the residents of Cascade County, remains committed to meeting the ongoing healthcare needs of patients across Northcentral Montana.