Do Healthcare CEOs Deserve More Money Than Doctors?

Leigh Page


July 02, 2014

In This Article

Do Doctors Resent CEO Pay?

Unless doctors become healthcare CEOs -- which, in fact, more physicians are doing -- multimillion-dollar incomes aren't in the cards for them. "I don't criticize these incomes out of envy," Dr. Wollschlaeger said. "I don't need that much money. But it would be nice to be acknowledged for the work I do."

For many doctors, part of being "acknowledged" includes making a decent salary for the long hours they put in. And lots of them say they're underpaid. In fact, only roughly one half of physicians in Medscape's latest Physician Compensation Report felt fairly compensated for their work.

However, when doctors talk about reimbursements, they are coming from a much different world, with different values, from that of executive pay. Physicians' income is based on Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes, which are deliberated by peer committees, and a scientifically derived resource-based relative value scale. But CEO pay rates are based quite bluntly on what hospitals are willing to pay.

Janice Boughton, MD, a hospitalist in Moscow, Idaho, said CEO pay scales might seem alarming, but "keep in mind that somebody is willing to pay these amounts. If the hospital wasn't making money off of these CEOs, it wouldn't be paying them so much."

Karen E. Joynt, MD, the lead author of the JAMA Internal Medicine study, agreed that CEO pay is a very different matter from physician pay. "Is a CEO who's making $600,000 working harder than a primary care physician? Probably not," she said. "But that pay scale is not out of step with other industries."

Dr. Joynt, a cardiologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, said the lesson she took away from her findings wasn't that CEOs were being paid too much, but that they need to be better incentivized to improve quality and efficiency. The findings present "an opportunity to think about how we should be rewarding hospital leaders for their work, and to identify specific metrics," she said.


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