Physician salaries account for 8% of U.S. healthcare costs

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As physicians face tighter scrutiny from consumers and public health experts, a survey conducted by Jackson Healthcare reveals that physician salary accounts for approximately 8 percent of total U.S. spending on medical care, while only a minority of physicians receive additional earnings for ordering imaging or other tests.  

Using data from the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Jackson Healthcare estimated that physician salaries in the U.S. totaled $216 billion in 2009, while national health spending reached $2.5 trillion in that year overall.

Based on results from the survey, Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare, which provides medical staffing, management and health IT products, found that 82 percent of physicians receive no compensation for ordering imaging, prescriptions, labs or other tests. Meanwhile, a minority of physicians—36 percent—reported that their yearly income came only from fixed sources.

Imaging was the most commonly compensated test, with 2.6 percent of physicians indicating that they earned additional income for ordering diagnostic exams. Approximately 1 percent of physicians earned extra money for each of the facility fees for surgery, hospital admission charges and lab tests. Only 0.5 percent of physicians were compensated for prescription orders.

Beyond exams, the most common sources of variable pay for physicians were productivity and practice ownership, with 12 percent and 8 percent of physicians bringing in money from these sources, respectively.

The Jackson survey, which was based on 1,512 internet responses, comes just as an MGMA survey released last week showed that radiologists and cardiologists earn between two and three times the salaries of primary care physicians. Non-invasive diagnostic radiologists earn a median $350,000, non-invasive cardiologists approximately $400,000 and primary care physicians make roughly $170,000, the survey found. These figures rise for interventionists and subspecialists.

To view our coverage of MGMA’s Physician Placement Starting Salary Survey: 2011 Report Based on 2010 Data, click here.