Improving health care by paying doctors more
The New York Times reported on a nationwide experiment being conducted to see if insurers, Medicare and Medicaid can save money by paying primary care physicians more. "Primary care" doctors are the front-line physicians who practice as Generalist Practitioners, or as Family Practice, Internal Medicine or Pediatric specialists. The paper claims that because Medicare and private insurers pay only about $60 per visit, primary care doctors cannot afford to "spend more than a few minutes with each patient". The theory is that if primary care doctors are better paid, they will uncover serious medical problems before the problems lead to expensive and catastrophic events such as strokes and heart attacks. It is also suggested that patient care would improve if more physicians would elect to work in primary care. A payment schedule of the nature described in the study allows for gross receipts of only about $600.00 per hour and a median income of only $150,000.00 for Family Practice doctors. This figure is less than the $177,000.00 median income reported for Internal Medicine specialists and well below the $406,000.00 per year median income for gastrolenterologists and $433,000.00 for cardiac surgeons. (The NYT quoted median income figures provided by the Medical Group Management Association.) As a result of this disparity in income, according to the American Medical Association, there are only about 250,000 primary care doctors in the country, compared with almost a half million specialists.