Health care reform may be helping close the pay gap for primary care providers

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at Follow her on Facebook.

Photo by ibmphoto24 via Flickr.

Photo by ibmphoto24 via Flickr.

We don’t usually post two consecutive items by the same health care reporter on different topics. But when I was trying to double-check a link on the last item based on Bruce Japsen’s work, I stumbled on another interesting post by him. This one is about how health reform is encouraging primary physician pay to rise more quickly than that of specialists.

Japsen reports in Forbes that primary care physician compensation rose nearly 3.6 percent last year to $241,273, according to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), an association of physician practice administrators.

Specialists make nearly twice that much – on average $411,852 in 2014 – but their rate of increase was a lower 2.39 percent from 2013.

And the gap was even wider in the prior year. In 2012, he writes, “pay of primary care doctors, which include family physicians, internists and pediatricians (rose) more than 9 percent while specialist total compensation rose just 3.9 percent.”

Bruce Japsen

Bruce Japsen

This isn’t going to close the gap. But it clearly is telling us something about how the shift away from fee-for-service to value-based medicine is taking root. Primary care is often at the center of these new models, which emphasize coordination, prevention, management of chronic conditions, and team-based care. In addition, hospitals are hiring more primary care doctors to capture outpatient revenue – which is also part of the “value-based” picture. And there is a shortage of primary care physicians.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright, a pediatrician and MGMA’s chief executive officer, was quoted as saying.  “Every system needs primary care physicians as they shift to value based care models.”

And that trend is likely to heighten amid the coming consolidation of health insurers who are pushing for more rapid transformation into value-based models.

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