Physician compensation grew modestly during pandemic, MGMA says

Dive Brief:

  • Despite the financial turmoil COVID-19 wrought on U.S. medical practices over the past year, physician income has remained relatively steady, according to a new survey by the Medical Group Management Association.
  • The survey — which included 185,000 providers among more than 6,700 physician-owned and hospital-owned practices — concluded they experienced flat or modest income growth in 2020. While compensation for primary care physicians — traditionally one of the lowest-paid specialties — grew, most specialist physicians either experienced small bumps or decreases in their income.
  • Many medical specialties also experienced a decrease in patient encounters last year — a nearly inevitable outcome after many elective procedures were postponed in order to keep hospital capacity low enough to treat COVID-19 patients. However, the MGMA survey concluded that most practices saw patient volumes return to normal by mid-summer of 2020. Analysts predict the trend will continue to grow in 2021.

Dive Insight:

COVID-19 impacted the practice of medicine in ways no one could have anticipated. As a result, physician compensation took a hit last year, according to the MGMA survey.

Primary care physicians were about the only group of clinicians that didn’t see their income take a negative hit. Their median total compensation rose 2.6% last year compared to 2019, despite their volume of patient encounters dropping slightly, while pediatricians saw their pay rise a median of 6%, the biggest bump among all the doctors surveyed. Family medicine specialists experienced a nearly 4% median increase.

Advanced practice physicians saw their median total income increase 1.25%, although many specialists saw their pay slide. Non-surgical specialists saw their median total pay drop 1.3% — even though their patient encounters rose — while surgical specialists saw theirs drop 0.89%. Between 2018 and 2020, non-surgical specialists saw their median total compensation drop 2.9%, while surgical specialists saw it drop 4.8%.

Although many practices saw a dramatic increase in the cost of supplies, many cut costs elsewhere.

“Our numbers tell a story of a year of unprecedented challenges that could have potentially led to a serious decline in compensation across every category we track. Practices acted quickly to leverage government programs to cover staff costs and expenses during the early part of 2020. They adapted to new delivery models such as telemedicine and were able to quickly ramp up when patient volumes returned later in the year. It is a testament to the resiliency of physician groups that weathering the challenges of a year that tested us all in so many ways,” MGMA CEO Halee Fischer-Wright said in a statement.