Obamacare and physician salaries

Relative to the general population, doctors have higher salaries. Think of this as repayment for taking on six-figure student loan debt, spending eight years in school, working upwards of 100 hours a week for another half dozen years, and making less than the median national income during residency. But will high physician salaries become a thing of the past after Obamacare’s implementation?

The actual effects of Obamacare on physician salaries, like most long term consequences of the legislation, are unclear. Physicians opposed to the plan say that because it requires insurers to keep plan costs low while simultaneously covering a broad range of services, insurers will need to control what doctors do and limit what they’re paid.  For the government to help make the arithmetic work, Medicare billing rates are the most likely targets as much of the private market is priced according to Medicare schedules. Several decreases to reimbursements rates have already been recommended by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, such as a cut to what Medicare pays specialists and the subsequent freezing of these lower rates for years.

Proponents of the law say that Obamacare will not have a detrimental impact on their salaries. They point to the estimated 25 million Americans who will gain coverage over the next decade as an added source of revenue for many doctors. It was partially for this reason that the American Medical Association endorsed the legislation when it was passed in 2010.

Who’s right, and who’s wrong? The answer won’t be known for years to come, but regardless of the outcome, medical practitioners of all types should prepare themselves for the financial uncertainty the new law will introduce.

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