Government list of physician pay doesn't ring true to experience

LETTER — Posted Feb. 2, 2004

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Regarding "Feds say you're well paid" (Column, Nov. 17, 2003): Every time I see government figures comparing incomes of various groups I have to go take antinausea pills.

This latest, showing physicians in seven of the top 10 highest-paying occupations, was no exception. I went to the site but couldn't find the specific details. Therefore I assumed that the figures were based on a 40-hour week.

Because I'm a surgeon, I took the figure for surgeons. Sure enough, if you divide $137,040 by 2080 (52 weeks at 40 hours per week) you get $65.8846.

Anybody know any full-time surgeons working only 40 hours a week? I don't. If you make it 50 hours a week, you get $52.70, and if you make it 60 hours, you get $43.92.

Most independent physicians working full time put in at least 50 hours per week. The calculations also do not consider time-and-a-half for overtime and double time for Sundays and holidays.

Once, during my full-time practice days, I calculated my earnings based on what a journeyman union plumber or electrician would make if they worked the same number of hours.

I still earned more than they did, but not by much, and that didn't take into consideration employer-paid benefits such as health insurance, retirement and half of Social Security.

Actually, the highest-paid people in the country are members of Congress. They earn over $150,000 a year and are due for a raise in this year. This does not include their taxpayer-provided perks, of which there are many.

I do not begrudge anyone their earnings, but I am sick and tired of physicians being singled out by the government as people who are overpaid. Only the market knows what a person's work is worth, and until we get back to a free market in medicine, this kind of distorted information will continue to be used to keep physicians on the defensive about their incomes.

Until we opt out of the system, we can expect to experience further decreases in payment for services rendered and increases in onerous, useless and punitive regulations designed specifically to keep us in line.

Richard Ambur, MD, Silverdale, Wash.

Editor's note: Dr. Ambur is correct; the figures are based on a 40-hour week.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2004/02/02/edlt0202.htm.

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