Doctors’ Average Pay Fell 7% in 8 Years, Report Says

From the NY Times, via Symtym:

The Dr. Smiths are having trouble keeping up with the Mr. Joneses.

A report planned for release today indicates that the average physician’s net income declined 7 percent from 1995 to 2003, after adjusting for inflation, while incomes of lawyers and other professionals rose by 7 percent during the period.

The researchers who prepared the report say the decline in doctors’ inflation-adjusted incomes appears to be affecting the types of medicine they choose to practice and the way they practice it — resulting in fewer primary care doctors and a tendency to order more revenue-generating diagnostic tests and procedures.

Primary care doctors, who are already among the lowest-paid physicians, had the steepest decline in their inflation-adjusted earnings — a 10 percent drop — according to the report by the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonprofit research group in Washington.

The average reported net income for a primary care physician in 2003 was $146,405, according to the study, after expenses like malpractice insurance but before taxes. The highest-paid doctors were surgeons who specialize in areas like orthopedics, who had an average net income of $271,652, nearly double what the primary care doctors said they earned.

The report was based on a national telephone survey of roughly 6,600 physicians in 2004 and 2005 and earlier surveys by the research center. “These are large enough changes that physicians are responding,” said Paul B. Ginsburg, the center’s president and a health economist.

Doctors, he said, are reacting to the financial incentives under the current payment system by choosing to specialize and work in fields where they can increase their income by providing more services, like diagnostic tests or procedures, he said.

Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, the chairman of the board of the American Medical Association, said that for practicing physicians the survey “confirms what they already know from their own practices: payments are not keeping up with inflation.

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