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Medicare paid me $112,134

How much is your life worth? Medicare data reveals the answer.

Click the image to see how much Medicare paid me in 2012.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a massive amount of information today regarding how much money it paid out to individual doctors. For the policy nerds out there, here is the original data.  For everyone else, here is a simple way to look up how much your own doctor made. I decided to search for myself in the database to discover how much Medicare paid me.

Compared to the highest paid doctor – an ophthalmologist practicing in West Palm Beach by the name of Saloman Melgen – I made almost nothing. Now most ophthalmologists do pretty well, but this guy “made” over $20 million in 2012. Just from Medicare alone!

Well, when digging into the numbers, that doctor’s compensation was only $2.5 million. Office overhead cost $6.1 million and another $11.8 million went to “drugs and other” items.

The point that Dr. Melgen and others who have been singled-out by the news media have made is that either the highest compensated physicians are simply the one person while only virtually entering the physicians’ hands.

In 2012, I never once saw a check from Medicare. I never held it, or stashed it in a bank vault, or did one of those Scrooge McDuck swimming through the money pit moments I remember from childhood. imagesInstead, the $112,134 that Medicare paid me in 2012 went into a “lockbox” held by a large corporation that employs emergency physicians and contracts with hospitals to staff emergency departments. In fact, all the money for services for which I charged patients – whether the patient paid via Medicare, Medicaid, Kaiser, Blue Cross, or even out of their own pockets – ended up in that lockbox.

Some of that money made it to me. Of course, not all of it did. Some went to pay for the salaries of the people running that large corporation. And since that company is a publicly traded firm some of that money probably went to shareholders too. But, by no means did all of that $112,134 make it to me.

But the release of the data by CMS and the headlines from some newspapers will irresponsibly misled the public into thinking that thousands of millionaire doctors are driving around America in Masseratis and Bentleys at the expense of the American taxpayer.

Let us – for a moment – look at how much I got paid by Medicare. Specifcally, let us look at the care of the 60 sickest critical care patients that rolled into my ER in 2012. To care for those patients, which according to Medicare rules requires a minimum time commitment of 30 minutes, I got paid a whopping $181 per patient. Today I took care of a similar patient who, but for the grace of God and the skilled hands of myself and several emergency nurses, would have died. That’s only worth $181?

Maybe CMS timed this data dump to distract from the fact that the Senate approved a bill on Monday to cut further what Medicare already pays physicians. I certainly believe that Medicare overpays for some services (mostly procedures like those performed by those super-rich ophthalmologists) relative to others (intellectual services like primary care, psychiatry, etc.).

But I can tell you one thing.

Saving your life is worth more than $181.


Cedric Dark, MD, MPH

Cedric Dark, MD, MPH, FACEP
About Cedric Dark, MD, MPH, FACEP

Cedric Dark, MD, MPH, FACEP is Founder and Executive Editor of Policy Prescriptions®. A summa cum laude graduate of Morehouse College, Dr. Dark earned his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine. He holds a master’s degree from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. He completed his residency training at George Washington University. Currently, Dr. Dark is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and a Health Policy Scholar in the Center for Medical Ethics & Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine. He produces a health policy podcast for the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Dark’s commentary and opinions on this website are his own and do not represent the views of Baylor College of Medicine or the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Contact: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | YouTube | More Posts

5 Comments on Medicare paid me $112,134

  1. Cedric Dark // April 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm //

    I appreciate all the comments. I was at a medical society meeting this weekend and spoke with leadership. Some feel the time is right to link this data dump with poor provider payment levels. We – physicians – must shift the dialogue from the 1% that get paid crazy numbers to the 99% of us that are getting paid *relative* peanuts.

  2. Scott Rusco // April 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm //

    Also, doesn’t this violate our privacy by publishing this? I would LOVE to see a FULL disclosure of what our politicians make- not just base salary but benefits, speakers fees, and even perks that are paid by taxpayers’ money that we regular citizens would have to pay out of our own pocket. That would reflect what they really make. And would there be as much outrage for that? maybe so, but nothing would be done about it either. Scott J. Rusco D.O.

  3. David Dougherty, Ph.D. // April 10, 2014 at 12:57 pm //

    Mark Twain popularized the saying (and may be its source) “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” More to the point is that statistics can be incorrectly used to validate or refute arguments to which they are not accurately applied but also they can be read incorrectly by those inadequately prepared to interpret them.

    This data dump invites misinterpretation, inadvertent or intentional, because it contains no analysis and provides no interpretation. Your point is accurate, Dr Dark. This data dump provides no insight whatsoever except to those who can understand it and those are not likely the people writing articles about it.

  4. DerfelDog // April 10, 2014 at 10:50 am //

    Similar to the situation of my son, an Audi tech, who gets about $70 for the diagnosis and repair of the average customer’s car, while the company charges that same customer $3,000 or so. The rest goes to overhead, middle management, and shareholders.

  5. Brant S Mittler MD JD // April 10, 2014 at 10:40 am //

    Great comment with excellent documentation. Compare with my plumber who just charged me $125 to unstop a commode. That took him 20 minutes.

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