Senate Committee To Vote on Higher Salaries for Department of Veterans Affairs Physicians
The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Tuesday plans to vote on a bill that would revise the pay system used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow the department to offer higher salaries to some physicians and dentists, the Washington Post reports. A spokesperson for the committee said that the legislation would establish a 15-step pay system with base salaries for all physicians in the range of $90,000 and $133,000. The bill also would allow VA to increase the range of base salaries for specialists based on at least two surveys of comparable private-sector salaries. In addition, under the legislation, all physicians would receive regular pay increases based on longevity and cost-of-living adjustments. The bill would not allow VA to reduce salaries for physicians after the new pay system takes effect, the committee spokesperson said. Charles Robbins, a spokesperson for committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said, "Specter, the administration and the employees themselves have been working together to update the VA physician salary structure. We believe the result will be good for the veterans, good for the VA and good for skilled doctors."
According to the Post, the Bush administration, VA officials and some lawmakers maintain that because the department offers physicians and dentists inadequate salaries, they are "increasingly being tempted by better pay in the private sector." In a letter to Congress last year, VA Secretary Anthony Principi wrote that the VA pay system for physicians, which the department has not revised since 1991, offers "insufficient flexibility" to recruit physicians and dentists. VA salaries are more than 35% lower than those offered by the private and academic sectors in specialties such as anesthesiology, cardiology, oncology, orthopedic surgery, radiology and urology, Principi wrote. Mari Horak, associate chief patient care services officer for VA, said on Monday, "The difficulty the VA faces grows more acute each year" because VA physicians are limited to salary increases based on longevity, which expands the salary differences between the department and the private and academic sectors. Horak also said that VA is "seeing an inability to recruit (specialists) and as a result, increasing contract costs" with private physicians.
Bill Booher, executive director of the National Association of VA Physicians and Dentists, said that members do not expect to receive salaries as high as those of their private-sector counterparts, in part because VA physicians and dentists do not have to purchase medical malpractice insurance. However, he said, "If you can't keep pace financially with the private-sector market, then you are not going to be able to attract the quality of physicians and dentists that our veterans deserve." Donald Mooney, a spokesperson for the American Legion, said that the organization supports efforts to increase salaries for VA physicians and dentists (Lee, Washington Post, 7/20).