Has Medicare Made Your Doctor a Millionaire?

Medicare paid a Florida ophthalmologist $26 million in 2012. It paid a Florida cardiologist $23 million. Dozens of other doctors received more than $4 million. And hundreds received well over $1 million.

These are among the more starling revelations contained in a trove of data on physician payments that the Medicare program released yesterday. (To access the data directly, click here.)  It was no secret that some doctors make a lot of money. But that much money, and entirely at taxpayer expense? That took many by surprise.

What is not a surprise is the distribution of Medicare payments to doctors. The highest earners were almost all specialists. An analysis by the New York Times found that all but a few of the doctors in the highest-paid 2% practiced in specialties and only a small portion in primary care. 

There is broad agreement that the United States faces a shortage of primary care physicians. The situation is expected to become much worse as more Americans gain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. A quick look at the newly released data leaves little doubt as to one of the major causes.


We asked the blog's board of contributors for their thoughts:

"Not only is there a tremendous discrepancy in the achievable income between specialists and primary care physicians, there is also a perceived distinction in stature.  In medical schools, the highest earing specialists are held in the highest regard.  Their photos appear on billboards, on television, and in print ads.  The primary care physicians are often viewed as the least prestigious physicians, and are not touted by medical students as role models.  This needs to be changed if we try to lure our brightest students into primary care." - Paula L. Stillman, MD, MBA

What are your thoughts on the Medicare data?