Doctor pay seems to be an almost untouchable factor in health care costs, but come on now. This guy put aside $3 million a year (I should note that it’s possible he had preexisting sources of wealth) doing back surgeries—and he’s clearly not somebody on the best-doctor lists. Ezra Klein noted back in 2008 that a McKinsey study found that the U.S. pays its doctors $58 billion a year more than Europe does. (Also fascinating: The study found that compared to Europe, we overpay for drugs by $66 billion and $50 billion for underwriting and marketing, plus we tack on $75 billion for industry profits).
In this case, the story is a devastating picture of a doctor on the far end of the spectrum. But the Journal found fifty spinal surgeons whose rate of additional fusion procedures on the same patient is at least quadruple the average rate (see its chart). The prospect of using this kind of computer-assisted reporting to smoke out bad doctors and perhaps to retrain or rein in the less egregious ones is fascinating. There are surely many, many more stories to be found.
Excellent work by the Journal.