Friday, June 8, 2012

Freakonomics on Surgeons' Fees

The 6/6/2012 Freakonomics blog has an interesting post, "What Surgeons Get Paid, and What Patients Think Surgeons Get Paid".

They discuss a paper written by an orthopedic surgeon on public perception of surgeons' fees. Here's the money quote (both literally and figuratively):
On average, patients thought that surgeons should receive $18,501 for total hip replacements, and $16,822 for total knee replacements. Patients estimated actual Medicare reimbursement to be $11,151 for total hip replacements and $8,902 for total knee replacements. Seventy per cent of patients stated that Medicare reimbursement was "much lower" than what it should be, and only 1% felt that it was higher than it should be.
In reality, surgeons get paid on average $1,378 for a total hip and $1,430 for a total knee. Thus patients were off by an order of magnitude in their estimates! The disconnect in public knowledge seems extreme.
In short, patients -- the most important part of all of health care policy decisions -- have absolutely no clue how much doctors get paid. They think we get paid (or, at least, deserve to) about 10 times more than we actually do!
Of course, when a patient gets an artificial hip, he or she also has to pay the hospital for the OR time, the nursing care, and for the cost of the artificial hip itself.

The surgeon's fee is thus a fairly small part of the total bill. In fact, the $1,400 fee is comparable to the charge for labor (not including parts) for replacing the transmission in your automobile!

(Freakonomics link via Kelly Valenzuela.)