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ER doctors' pay raises outpace other specialists

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