Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Doctors' Incomes Rising despite HMOs

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Doctors' Incomes Rising despite HMOs

Article excerpt

The United States' physicians still complain that managed-care organizations drown them in paperwork and meddle with their prerogatives in treating patients. But their fears for their own livelihoods, that managed care would reduce their wages or drive them out of medicine, are proving overdrawn.

Doctors' incomes have rebounded from the nearly 4 percent decline four years ago that was reported by the American Medical Association in early 1996. That decrease was widely attributed to the impact of managed care. A survey of 1996 incomes, which was reported last month, showed physicians' average earnings rising to the threshold of $200,000 for the first time.

That is $18,000, or almost 10 percent, more than in 1994, and $70,000, or about 50 percent, more than in 1987, when managed care was just beginning to spread; it is a rate of increase surpassing the gains of most other working Americans. Consulting firms' less comprehensive surveys for this year and last show physician incomes stabilizing or slightly rising. When inflation is taken into account, doctors are little better off than they were a decade ago. "If you're well trained and don't have something lurking in your past, you can make a pretty darn good living," said Dr. William Mason, a pulmonologist and internist in Little Rock. "The question physicians have to ask themselves now is `How much do I want to make?' Medicine never promised to make us millionaires." To be sure, doctors aren't realizing the 10 percent annual gains in income they sometimes saw in the old days of fee-for-service medicine, when they could essentially bill compliant insurance companies whatever they wished for care. The managed-care revolution has clearly taken hold, forcing doctors to justify their services, negotiate their fees and learn the bookkeeping and accounting tools that are anathema to many. Among the specialties, income changes have often been volatile. Anesthesiologists and pathologists have suffered acute declines in income and are only now seeing them recover somewhat. …

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