Do U.S. Physicians Make Too Much Money?

In September of 2011, Laugesen and colleagues looked at why health care in the US costs so much. Part of their analysis explored primary care physician fees. It showed that primary care docs in the US make a bit more, per office visit, than their colleagues in 5 other countries. But Americans are much less likely to have an appointment with their primary care doctors.

In other words: we can’t blame the cost of US health care on expensive primary care doctors scheduling a bunch of unnecessary visits.

Laugesen also looked at orthopedic surgery in the 5 countries.  Once again, the cost of American health care can NOT be blamed on the volume of procedures we do here.  Instead, it is the amount of money we charge for those procedures!

And the bottom line, for these physicians, is predictable, as shown in these income figures:

This raises a huge challenge.  If we want to control medical expenses in the US, we need to do lots of things. But among them, we need to tackle physician pay, especially procedural-subspecialty physician pay. Good luck going against those interest groups! (Click here to view comments)

 

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11 Responses to Do U.S. Physicians Make Too Much Money?

  1. Bob says:

    You failed to mention that those orthopedic surgeons acquired $200,000 in debt from medical school loans, spent 5-7+ years making minimum wage working 80+ hour weeks with incredible stress loads and sleep deprivation before they get to the numbers you cite. Furthermore studies have shown that physician pay is merely a drop in the bucket of this countries skyrocketing healthcare costs. What an incredibly short-sighted article. Tackling your salary would be a better start.

    • Peter Ubel says:

      This is obviously a topic too complex for a short blog post. I was merely reporting findings from an important study, one that brings out a crucial aspect of our health care system: that we are expensive as much (maybe even more) for our prices than for our volume of services. We cannot debate healthcare costs in this country without looking at that issue. And subscpecialty, procedural pay is where these price and pay differences are largest. That is just a fact. What we do with those facts is worth debating. I am all for reducing med student debt. But most of my cardiology/orthopedics/name-your-favorite-procedural-subspecialty-here friends have long ago paid off their debts and are doing quite well, while my general pediatrics colleagues, for whom medical school is just as expensive, have a much harder time paying off the debt.

    • Mike says:

      Everything a doctor sacrifice to achieve his or her education the typical phd student in literature or history will have to sacrifice as well yet they are satisfied to earn one fourth what doctors earn with much less job security

      • asfkajl@comcast.net says:

        HAHAHAHA a history student working as hard as a med student. read up on med school a bit then come back to us

  2. David says:

    Are you serious? I enjoy your blogging most of the time but how can you seriously present that table without mentioning that in those countries the physicians are not paying for medical education… how shortsighted can you be? Please stop presenting shortsighted analysis.

    • Peter Ubel says:

      See my commment above. Also: no blogger should be expected to point out every related topic for every post. I have written a number of posts about health care costs, a thick and rich topic. This short post was pointing out someone else’s research that i think people should be aware of. One of the findings we need to take account of to have a full-on, nuanced debate about how to control health care expenditures. Glad you are liking most of my posts!

    • Mike says:

      The difference in the salary is large enough to cover any differences in med school cost within a couple of years of doctor’s salary so i dont think you can claim that to be such a significant factor

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  5. Lex says:

    While it’s true that American physicians, particularly specialists, are paid much more than their counterparts in other developed countries, it’s also true that physician compensation is a relatively small part (5-8%) of the overall healthcare costs in the US, a much lower percentage than in other developed countries, and American physician salary is offset by greater opportunity costs (high cost of medical education + over a decade of not being able to earn or save money).

    Even if every doctor in the United States worked for free, the costs of healthcare in this country would still be far higher than in other nations with similar levels of economic development, which shows that the bulk of our issues with healthcare have far more to do with other factors.

  6. DS says:

    As a subspecialty physician in practice, I don’t think physicians are paid enough for the sacrifice involved. While specialists do well, primary care physicians are not paid well enough. Everyone talks about years of schooling and training but what no one mentions is that you have to be at the top of your class. Sure there are other fields where people have put in a number of years like a PhD in science, literature, etc. But if a PhD graduates with a C average, no big deal. From high school onwards, a budding physician needs to be at the top of the class. Getting into med school is hard and when I look back on my years from 18-36, the main thing that comes up is studying in the library. While I did have fun as well, I did not have nearly the fun and experiences that 95% of other people have because I needed to hit the books to get the 3.8 GPA to be at the top of my class. I have a lot of engineer friends and they have a tough classes and it was very common for them to graduate with B and C averages. Well they all have good jobs starting at the age of 22. Yes their salary is not as high as my first salary but I got my first job at 36 after 4 years of med school and 10 yrs of grueling residency and fellowship training. If the US wants a whole bunch of dummies as their doctors, then maybe we should go that route. Frankly I want the guy/girl who has sacrificed a lot to take care of me because I know that they have prepared for one of life’s toughest callings…saving a human life.

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