Jan 15, 2020

ER doctors' pay raises outpace other specialists

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Data: Urban Institute; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Emergency doctors — which are at the center of the surprise billing debate — saw their compensation go up more than any other physician specialty between 2013 and 2017.

Why it matters: This translates into higher health care costs, which we all pay for through our taxes, premiums and out-of-pocket spending.

By the numbers: Overall, doctors saw a 16.1% pay raise in this period — with a handful of specialties leading the way.

The big picture: Surprise medical bills obviously hit their recipients hardest, but economists argue that they also improve doctors' leverage over insurers.

  • A recent study in Health Affairs found that four specialties that are often out-of-network — anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists and assistant surgeons — raise employer insurance spending by 3.4%.

Yes, but: Other specialties that don't frequently surprise bill are also seeing higher compensation, meaning there are plenty of other factors involved.

The bottom line: "Obviously we all want clinicians to be well-compensated, for what is a challenging job requiring a great deal of training and skill, but if physician income constantly rises relative to the [average] patient, physician services become unaffordable," said Dan O'Neill, a fellow at the National Academy of Medicine.

Go deeper: Surprise medical bills inflate everyone's health insurance premiums

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White House seems to back insurers in fight over surprise bills

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

In the debate over surprise medical bills, the White House said today it's "concerned that a push to overuse arbitration will raise healthcare costs" — indicating that it's not on board with the approach doctors and hospitals prefer.

The big picture: Congress is gridlocked between two approaches, pitting insurers against providers. White House spokesman Judd Deere also said the administration believes surprise bills from air ambulances should be addressed in the same legislation.

Go deeper: Surprise medical bills inflate everyone's health insurance premiums

Elective surgery's surprise medical bill risk

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Even patients who plan elective surgeries with in-network doctors at in-network facilities have a pretty good chance of receiving a surprise medical bill, according to a new JAMA study.

Why it matters: Surprise bills are a problem for the patients who receive them, but also for the system as a whole, as they drive up overall health care costs.

Go deeperArrowFeb 12, 2020 - Health

Congress remains gridlocked on surprise medical bills

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congress says it's trying again to pass legislation protecting patients from surprise medical bills, but it doesn't appear to have resolved any of the fights that derailed the effort late last year.

The big picture: Surprise billing is the unique issue that splits lawmakers not by party, but by which industry group — insurers or providers — they sympathize with more. And both industries are fighting hard for their favored solution.

Go deeperArrowFeb 10, 2020 - Health