Healthcare News & Insights

Medicare pay: Why male docs earn higher salaries

Riddle me this: If men and women are equally paid by Medicare for providing the same service, why do women only make about half as much as their male counterparts in the Medicare system? 

188094090According to a new study by NerdWallet Health, there are a number of factors that may contribute to this phenomenon.

Don’t believe it’s true?

The study found that, on average, males doctors make 88% more in annual Medicare reimbursements ($118, 782 per year), than female doctors ($63,346 per year).

Reasons for this disparity include:

  • Male physicians, on average, treat 60% more Medicare patients a year (513), than female doctors (320).
  • Men, on average, make 24% more money per Medicare patient treated than female doctors.
  • Male doctors perform more services per patient treated (5.7 services performed per patient by male doctors vs. 4.7 services per patient by female doctors), which is consistent across specialties.

Practice inconsistencies

Male physicians aren’t paid more because they practice better medicine or provide high quality care. Past research points to the facts that they tend to work longer hours and dominate high-paying surgical fields.

In fact, only 10% of Medicare physicians in surgical specialties, like cardiac, orthopedic and neurosurgery, are women.

What this new study does highlight is the issue that Medicare provides incentives for physicians to see more patients and provide more services, which incurs more costs to the healthcare system and patients.

Plus, according to the study, an increase in services means an increased exposure to “a healthcare system in which over 210,000 patients die annually from medical errors.”

Additional factors

In addition to practice variations, the study also points to other factors that may impact the payment gender gap, such as:

  • Geography — Since Medicare payments vary by location, it makes sense that if women are practicing in lower paying areas, it could contribute to this discrepancy.
  • Coding variations — Also, it could be that male physicians are performing more highly reimbursed procedures than their female counterparts.
  • Care setting — Where the care takes place is another factor that affects payment. Medicare typically pays physicians less when services are performed in a hospital, rather than a clinic. So maybe it stands to reason that more women work in a hospital-based setting then men.
  • Missing data — Medicare withheld data when “11 patients were treated by an individual doctor for a given procedure code” due to privacy concerns. Therefore, if women fell in that “11 and under patients treated” category, it could very well skew the numbers.

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