Shrinking Paychecks for Doctors: New Report Documents Salary Trends for U.S. Physicians

November 27, 2012
by Doug Gavel

CAMBRIDGE MA -- Doctors in America are well compensated, but their paychecks have actually been shrinking in recent years. That is a finding in a new research study co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Amitabh Chandra and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In a research letter titled "Trends in the Earnings of Health Care Professionals in the United States, 1987-2010," Chandra and co-authors Seth A. Seabury from the RAND Corporation and Anupam B. Jena from Harvard Medical School analyze more than 20 years of data relating to annual earnings and hourly wages for several classifications of health care professionals -- including physicians, physician assistants, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and health and insurance executives.
The researchers found that while salaries in all classifications increased between 1987 and 1990, annual earnings actually declined for the typical physician between 2000 and 2010. Annual earnings actually rose significantly over the same period for both physician assistants and pharmacists. These findings cast doubt on the widespread belief that growth in the earnings of the typical physician are at the heart of cost-growth in the U.S. healthcare system.
"Despite attention paid to higher earnings of physicians in the United States compared with other countries, physician earnings grew less than those of other health professionals in the last 15 years," the authors conclude. "Possible explanations include managed care growth, Medicaid payment cuts, sluggish Medicare payment growth, or bargaining by insurance companies."
Amitabh Chandra is an economist, a Professor of Public Policy and Director of Health Policy Research at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. His research focuses on productivity and cost-growth in healthcare, medical malpractice, and racial disparities in healthcare.

Professor Amitabh Chandra

Professor Amitabh Chandra

"Despite attention paid to higher earnings of physicians in the United States compared with other countries, physician earnings grew less than those of other health professionals in the last 15 years," the authors conclude. "Possible explanations include managed care growth, Medicaid payment cuts, sluggish Medicare payment growth, or bargaining by insurance companies."

 


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