Average Physician Salary Down
The average inflation-adjusted salary for U.S. physicians decreased by 7% between 1995 and 2003, according to a study scheduled for release on Thursday by the Center for Studying Health System Change, the New York Times reports. For the study, researchers examined telephone surveys of 6,600 physicians in 2004 and 2005, as well as previous surveys conducted by HSC.
According to the study, primary care physicians experienced a 10% decrease in salary between 1995 and 2003, the largest decrease reported. Primary care physicians in 2003 reported an average salary of $146,405 after malpractice insurance and other costs but before taxes, and surgeons who specialize in areas such as orthopedics reported an average salary of $271,652, the study finds.
In addition, the study finds that Medicare reimbursements to physicians increased by 13% between 1995 and 2003 -- compared with a general inflation rate of 21% -- and that reimbursements from private health insurers increased by less than 13%.
Cecil Wilson, chair of the board of the American Medical Association, said that the study "confirms what they already know from their own practices: payments are not keeping up with inflation" (Abelson, New York Times, 6/22).
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the study indicates that the "salary trend probably is discouraging doctors from doing charity work and may be driving doctors away from primary care" (Spector, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/22).
Rick Kellerman, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said, "What it is going to come down to is problems with access" to primary care physicians.
The study also indicates that physicians have begun to "order more revenue-generating diagnostic test procedures" to address decreased salaries, the Times reports.
Paul Ginsburg, president of HSC and a health care economist, said, "Physicians have responded to the stagnant fees by producing more visits as well as more procedures" (New York Times, 6/22).