facebook Hospitals spend top dollars to lure doctors practicing in high-cost specialties. Guess who ultimately pays?

BIG PHARMA POLITICS: Consumers pressure politicians to do something about rising drug prices. Read More

Hospitals spend top dollars to lure doctors practicing in high-cost specialties. Guess who ultimately pays?

mergeThere’s no question that hospitals need doctors and doctors need hospitals. A survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruiting firm, details just how lucrative that arrangement can be.

For example, an internal medicine doctor generates $2.7 million in average revenues – 10 times his salary – for the hospital with which he is affiliated. The average cardiovascular surgeon generates $3.7 million in hospital revenues, nearly nine times her salary.

With so much at stake, some hospitals have been accused of paying doctors “kickbacks” to lure highly prized specialists into their networks.

Wheeling Hospital in Wheeling, West Virginia, built a clinic to attract an anesthesiologist who specializes in pain management, according to Kaiser Health News. The Catholic hospital also paid him as much as $1.2 million a year, well above what most pain management physicians nationally are paid.

The doctor’s pay and perks were gleaned from a whistleblower and revealed in a lawsuit filed by the federal government this spring.

Other details: The hospital paid a cardiothoracic surgeon $770,000 and let him take three months off each year. It paid an obstetrician-gynecologist $1.3 million annually. In both cases, the departments in which they worked routinely ran far over budget.

Wheeling Hospital is contesting the lawsuit and denies doing anything wrong. But the issues do help illustrate why health care costs so much.

“If we’re going to solve the health care pricing problem, these kinds of practices are going to have to go away,” Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, told Kaiser Health News. Based in Brookline, Mass., the Lown Institute advocates for more affordable care.

In recent years hospitals have spent a lot of money buying physician practices and adding doctors directly to their payrolls. As of January 2018, hospitals employed 44 percent of physicians nationwide and owned 31 percent of the physician practices, according to a report prepared for the Physician Advocacy Institute.

Has your physician’s practice become part of a larger hospital system? How did it affect your costs? Share your insights with Voices for Affordable Health.