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How much Medicare pays doctors

By Dan Keating, Cristina Rivero, Kat Downs and Emily Chow, Published: April 9, 2014

For the first time, the government is releasing detailed data about medicare payments to doctors, revealing what procedures doctors performed and what they were paid. The trove of billing records shows that thousands of physicians made more than $1 million each from Medicare in 2012. Dozens billed for more than $10 million. Billing for a large amount is not necessarily a sign of wrongdoing.

Doctors may be unusually efficient, may perform procedures that require high overhead, or may treat an especially large number of Medicare patients. Government inspectors, however, have recommended greater scrutiny for high billers.

Medicare paid doctors $64 billion in 2012. Most of it was for expenses.

Medicare paid doctors $64 billion in 2012, but most of it paid expenses.
Malpracticepremiums 43% 41% 13% 3% Officeoverhead Doctorcompensation Drugs, other costs Malpracticepremiums 43% 41% 13% 3% Officeoverhead Doctorcompensation Drugs, other costs

Specialties with large percentages of their Medicare payments going to:

Office overhead

These specialties have very high investments in equipment and staff.

Total paid, in millions Percentage of total Medicare payments
Diagnostic radiology $3,400 75%
Radiation oncology 1,499 75
Interventional radiology 146 71
Pathology 990 67
Vascular surgery 485 66
Allergy/immunology 161 62
Dermatology 2,233 61
Otolaryngology 639 57
Optometry 635 57
Oral surgery (dentists only) 10 56

Drugs and other costs

These specialties often have to administer expensive drugs.

Nurse anesthesiologist $297 99%
Anesthesiologist assistants 3 99
Medical oncology 805 64
Rheumatology 1,042 62
Hematology/oncology 2,701 62
Anesthesiology 856 61
Hematology 127 56
Nuclear medicine 63 50
Gynecology/oncology 53 34
Ophthalmology 5,580 27

Doctor compensation

These fields have less overhead, so most of the payment goes to the provider.

Licensed clinical social worker $83 79%
Clinical psychologist 279 78
Emergency medicine 2,171 74
Psychiatry 704 66
Hospice and palliative care 11 65
Critical care (intensivists) 208 62
Chiropractic 398 62
Certified clinical nurse specialist 31 61
Infectious disease 520 60

Malpractice premiums

Surgeons pay relatively more toward malpractice.

Cardiac surgery $179 9%
Neurosurgery 307 9
Thoracic surgery 150 9
Plastic and reconstructive surgery 126 6

Doctor pay

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Overhead

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Malpractice

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Drugs/other

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Total paid

Procedure (HCPCS code)
No. of patients
No. of procedures
Total paid

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Note: Descriptions of the medical procedures and related codes are from the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) code set, which is copyrighted by the American Medical Association.

Source: Department of Health and Human Services Department, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services