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by John W. Mitchell , Senior Correspondent
The new gatekeepers in America’s health care systems – primary care doctors – are seeing their pay increase. Sources agree the hike is due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and its emphasis on keeping people well and out of the hospital.

An annual Provider Compensation Report just issued by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) pegged the family practice income growth at 3.56 percent since 2013 to a median level of $241,273.

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“The market is becoming very competitive for primary care services as hospitals employ family doctors to meet the value-based purchasing goals under the ACA as well as to keep referrals flowing to their specialists,” Todd Evenson, COO at MGMA told HCB News. “The market is going through a transition right now as doctors still have one toe in the old fee-for-service model, but more and more are being paid under the new ACA measures.”

The MGMA and its 50 state affiliates comprise more than 33,000 administrators and executives in 18,000 health care organizations in which 385,000 physicians practice.

Primary care doctors are most often family medicine specialists, but can also include internists and pediatricians. Family doctors have seen their income grow 9.2 percent since 2012, according to the survey. Physician specialists, such as cardiologists and orthopedic surgeons, saw their compensation increase at a lower rate of 2.39 percent since last year.

Evenson said the survey revealed a drop in productivity measures used to calculate total physician pay from 39 percent to 25 percent. Instead, compensation is becoming less tied to how many patients a doctor can see in a day, to how well the doctor can manage quality factors to keep patients well.

Physician recruiters at Pacific Companies in Aliso Viejo, CA said the MGMA survey is accurate.

“We’re seeing total compensation with productivity for family medicine doctors of around $250,000,” Chris Kahl, vice president of recruiting told HCB News. “And we’re seeing our hospital clients raise the compensation package if 60 to 90 days go by without successfully recruiting a candidate. This is an indication of strong demand.”

His partner, John Paulk vice president of locums tenens, added that urgent care center staffing needs are also driving the demand for family medicine specialists.

A shortage of all doctors is projected to worsen over the next 10 years, which will likely drive physicians salaries up higher. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the shortfalls could run as high as 90,000 by 2025 overall, including a shortage of up to 31,000 primary care physicians.

“Physicians aren’t just motivated by salary,” Evenson stressed. “Every community is a little different. They are looking for opportunities that allow them to practice good medicine and have a balanced life. There are more factors to job satisfaction than just pay.”

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