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Physician compensation in U.S. among lowest for western nations

A recent study by Alpharetta, Ga.-based staffing company Jackson Healthcare found that the percentage rate of U.S. physician compensation is among the lowest of western nations.

Researchers obtained salary data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and the Medical Group Management Association to determine compensation percentages for nations with modern healthcare systems.

Total U.S. physicians’ salaries comprised 8.6 percent of the nation’s total healthcare costs. Of the western nations with modern healthcare systems, only Sweden devoted less money to physician salaries than the U.S, at a portion of 8.5 percent.

In contrast, Jackson researchers found physician compensation to represent about 15 percent of total healthcare expenditure in Germany, 11 percent in France and 11.6 percent in Australia. In the United Kingdom, physician payment constituted 9.7 percent of the total healthcare costs.

What are the implications of these variances in spending? According to Jackson Healthcare, the research could help dispel the idea that physician compensation is one of the major drivers for increasing U.S. healthcare costs.

However, Robert Serber, Special Projects Manager for the Gaithersburg, MD- based health insurance consulting company H.H.C. Group, stresses the importance of considering the exact figures behind physician compensation expenditure, rather than the percentage rates referenced by Jackson Healthcare.

“It is true that physicians in the US earn less as a percentage of healthcare spending…” he said. “However, they earn as much or more on a dollar basis.”

Serber cited a recent Commonwealth Fund study of thirteen industrialized nations that are members of the (OCED): “That report indicates that per capita healthcare spending in the US is double the average for the other 12 countries and $2,600 more than next highest spending country.”

The study found that as a percentage of GDP, U.S. healthcare spending was higher in comparison to the other countries as well. “We spend a much higher percentage, or GDP, on healthcare than the other countries,” said Serber. “If you take a look at those rates, we’re spending 17.4%, and the next closest is 12%. It’s a huge difference.”

Serber highlights price, not consumption or usage, as the trigger behind U.S. healthcare costs.

“We pay much more for the same services,” he said, “and there’s not indication that we’re getting any greater value or better outcomes for paying higher prices for the same services.”

So when working to measure health expenditure rates, draw comparisons, and determine these cost-drivers, Serber stresses percentage rates as well as literal figures: “Anytime that you’re looking at statistics, you have to be sure that you’re looking at all the relevant statistics.”




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