Don’t blame doctor salaries for high U.S. health care costs

It’s mighty easy to look at the average salary of U.S. doctors, compare it to your own, and conclude that doctors are paid too much. But the truth is something else.

As the latest Medscape Physician Compensation Report shows, primary care physicians averaged about $217,000 in total compensation in 2017, while specialists averaged $316,000. I certainly never earned an annual salary like that in my career. But here are a few other things I didn’t do:

Salary comparisons with other countries are not relevant

Dr. Walker Ray and Tim Norbeck, in Forbes, offer several, more detailed and persuasive arguments in defense of physicians’ salaries. Most importantly, they debunk the false comparisons critics often make with physician salaries in other countries.

But, whether you think physicians make too much or not, their salaries are nowhere near the biggest contributors to the high cost of health care. For that, you need to check out Steven Weissman’s latest in The Daily Caller, whose title, “Congress Allows Health Care Providers To Be Sleazy Goons Who Charge Whatever They Can Extract,” says it all. Weissman believes that Congress should ban the practice of billing whatever amount each patient can bear, based on the insurance they have:

Health care providers should live by the same rules that apply to all other sellers of consumer goods and services. They should remain free to set their own prices. However, each patient should not be billed a different price for the same service. The current medical pricing system is precisely what has put the middle class into a depression and wrecked U.S. competitiveness.

 

Legitimate pricing would mean patients are free to choose the best doctor or hospital without worrying about network affiliations. Nobody would ever be price gouged for being out-of-network or uninsured. You could google the price of any service. Medical pricing would be competitive and our artificially inflated health care prices and insurance premiums would plummet overnight.

Meanwhile, we spend all our time arguing about how to pay for the unreasonable prices, instead of how to reduce these prices. At some point, someone will figure out a way to tilt the discussion in the direction of reducing prices. Until then, perhaps we can stop arguing about doctors’ salaries.

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