During the last 15 years, physician earnings grew less than those of other health professionals, despite higher earnings of US physicians compared with other countries, researchers reported.
As reported in a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers estimated annual earnings and hourly wages of physicians and other health professionals from the Current Population Survey, a nationally representative monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households. They examined growth rates from 1987-1990 to 1996-2000 and from 1996-2000 to 2006-2010.
The total sample included 30,556 health professionals across all years, 20.5% of whom identified as physicians.
Results reveal fluctuations in physician earnings during the study period. Median physician earnings increased by 9.6% from 1987-1990 ($143,963) compared with 2006-2010 ($157,751). Other health professionals experienced larger growth in earnings from 1987-1990 to 2006-2010; for example, pharmacists earnings increased 44%.
In other results, the researchers found no significant growth in adjusted earnings for physicians from 1996-2000 to 2006-2010 (–1.6%). However, adjusted earnings continued to increase for other professionals, such as pharmacists (34.4% increase), from 1996-2000 to 2006-2010. The researchers noted similar patterns for wages.
From 1987-1990 to 1996-2000, regression-adjusted earnings growth was 19.9% for physicians. Earnings grew fastest for dentists (23.3%) during this period.
“Possible explanations include managed care growth, Medicaid payment cuts, sluggish Medicare payment growth or bargaining by insurance companies. Despite lack of recent growth, physician earnings remain higher than other occupations,” Seth A. Seabury, PhD, of the RAND Corporation, and colleagues wrote.
For this study, the researchers defined earnings as total annual labor income plus business income net of expenses, excluding income from ownership of facilities or medical technologies. Participants self identified as physician or surgeon, dentist, pharmacist, nurse, physician assistant, or health care and insurance executive. Of note, information on physician specialty was unavailable. This analysis was limited to workers aged older than 35 years.
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.