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Physician Compensation for Specialists 45.6% More than for PCPs

Physician compensation increased from $206K in 2011 to $294K in the past year, but specialists still earn more in annual wages than primary care providers, a survey showed.

Physician compensation increased since 2011, but the 45.6 percent payment gap between specialists and primary care providers remained, survey showed

Source: Thinkstock

By Jacqueline Belliveau

- According to a recent Medscape survey, physician compensation for specialists was 45.6 percent more than what primary care providers earned in the past year.

The survey of over 19,200 physicians in 27 specialists uncovered that the average physician income increased from $206,000 in 2011 to $294,000 this year.

But specialists received about $316,000 annually, while primary care providers earned nearly $100,000 less in 2017.

Increases in specialist salaries continue to drive recent physician compensation boosts. A July 2016 AMGA survey also found that physician wages rose by 3.1 percent in 2015, but the increase stemmed from three-fourths of specialists earning more.

The salary gap between specialists and primary care providers has been relatively stable since 2015, the Medscape survey stated. The organization’s 2015 Physician Compensation survey also revealed a 45.6 percent difference in compensation in favor of specialists.

Despite the value-based care push that emphasizes diagnostic over procedural care, more specialists earned higher salaries last year. Plastic surgeons saw the greatest compensation growth in the past year with a 24 percent increase, followed by:

• Allergy and immunology physicians with 15 percent

• Otolaryngologists with 13 percent

• Ophthalmologists with 12 percent

• Pulmonologists with 11 percent

• Orthopedists and pathologists both with 10 percent respectively

The survey pointed out that three of the specialties seeing the largest compensation increases had sustained setbacks in 2016. Plastic surgeons had almost no boost in compensation, whereas pulmonologists faced a 5 percent loss and allergy and immunology providers experienced an 11 percent loss.

On the other side, pediatricians, a primary care setting, experienced a 1 percent decrease in compensation. Pediatrics also topped the least paid list with an average wage of $202,000 annually.

Other primary care providers made the least paid list in the past year as well. Family medicine ranked second for lowest physician compensation with an average wage of $209,000 annually and internal medicine came in fourth with an average wage of $225,000 annually.

In contrast, the top three procedural specialties earned significantly more in 2017. Orthopedic providers averaged an annual salary of $489,000, followed by plastic surgeons with $440,000 and cardiologists with $410,000.

Researchers noted that physician compensation for internists, pediatricians, and family medicine physicians remained relatively the same since last year despite substantial increases in 2016. From 2015 to 2016, the primary care providers experienced a respective 12 percent, 7 percent, and 6 percent boost in compensation.

The survey also mentioned that cardiologists and oncologists were the exceptions to the rule this year. Both provider groups saw either little to no pay growth in the past year.

The reasons behind the cardiologist and oncologist compensation stagnation may be new Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rules, researchers explained. For cardiologists, the federal agency modified its reimbursement rates for stent placements, and for oncologists, it changed cancer drug reimbursements.

While the physician compensation gap between specialists and primary care provider continues into 2017, the survey showed that employed primary care providers may be gaining ground.

Overall, self-employed physicians earned $343,000 in the past year compared to just $269,000 for employed physicians, representing a 28 percent payment gap.

Specialists also faced a 28 percent compensation difference between self-employed and employed providers.

However, the payment gap among self-employed and employed primary care providers was significantly narrower. Self-employed primary care providers earned $223,000 versus $214,000 for employed primary care providers.

Researchers stated that the compensation gap narrowed in 2017 because self-employed primary care provider pay fell by 2.6 percent from 2016.

Meanwhile, hospitals and healthcare systems also increased employed primary care provider compensation, especially as the organizations implement more value-based care models.

Despite significant physician compensation differences, the survey found that primary care providers are generally satisfied with their pay rates. About 53 percent of family physicians, 52 percent of pediatricians, and 49 percent of internists reported they were fairly compensated for their services.

Even though orthopedists and plastic surgeons experienced double-digit pay growth in 2017, the providers also shared that they were fairly compensated.

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