Physician Staffing Blog

Healthcare News and Trends

Don't Blame Doctors For High Healthcare Spending

January 23, 2020

Don't Blame Doctors For High Healthcare Spending

By Phillip Miller


Two healthcare economists, Ann Case and Angus Deaton, recently took some hard and ill-considered shots at physicians in an article appearing in the Washington Post.


“Physicians,” Deaton said, “are a giant rent-seeking conspiracy that’s taking money away from the rest of us, and yet everybody loves physicians. You can’t touch them.”


Even as conspiracy theories go, that’s a pretty rank one. Only about one-quarter of the healthcare dollar goes to physicians, and that is before they deduct their expenses. The lion’s share of healthcare spending pays for hospital care, pharmaceuticals, various non-physician clinicians, home care, long-term care, administration and other services.


The average salary for primary care doctors is in the $240,000 range. That’s good money, but it only comes after physicians complete four years of college, four years of medical school and three years or more of residency training. At the end of this crucible, they are typically $180,000 or more in debt. What they then provide is a key service that can enhance or even save your life, the life of your child, spouse or parent. Some specialists make considerably more than primary care physicians, but then they can virtually perform miracles such as heart transplants or pediatric brain surgery. That seems like a pretty fair exchange.


And physicians don’t just suck money from the economy. In fact, they are economic engines. Each office-based physician generates $3.1 million in economic activity and supports 17 jobs, according to the AMA’s January, 2018 report The Economic Impact of Physicians. On average, one physician generates $2.4 million a year in net revenue for his or her hospital, a number derived from Merritt Hawkins’ 2019 Physician Inpatient/Outpatient Revenue Survey.


Healthcare now accounts for 11% of all jobs and is the leading employment sector in the U.S., having eclipsed retail several years ago. Many, if not most, of those jobs are dependent upon the activities of physicians – the hospital admissions they generate, procedures they perform, drugs they prescribe or treatment plans they order. A hospital without physicians is simply an empty hotel. An economy without them would look much different and much less robust than it does today.


If we want to point the finger at someone for high healthcare costs in this country we need to point it at ourselves. We allow millions of children to grow up in poverty, which inflates the cost of their care throughout their lives. We don’t retrain workers who lose their jobs and are subject to the “deaths of despair” that both Case and Deaton reference in their research. We make poor choices about what we eat and how often we exercise. Then we blame doctors when we have to pay them to repair the damage.


The fact is doctors are an asset, not a liability, and that is why “everybody loves them.” I would be happy to hear from readers who may concur or who may have a contrasting point of view.




Phillip Miller is Vice President of Communications for Merritt Hawkins and Staff Care, companies of AMN Healthcare. He can be reached at phil.miller@amnhealthcare.com

 


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