Slashing our salaries wouldn’t really cut costs.

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Some people think I'm overpaid as a physician, and that my salary fuels rising health costs. I can see their point: A survey by the Medical Group Management Association released in May found that internal medicine doctors like me have a starting median compensation of $190,000, while specialists such as anesthesiologists approach $300,000.

Vox's Sarah Kliff reports that U.S. physician salaries were twice as much as those in countries such as France and concluded, "Doctor salaries are a pretty significant part of the reason why the United States spends more per person on health care than any other developed country."

Not surprisingly, many doctors disagree. A 2014 Medscape poll found only half of physicians felt they were fairly compensated.

Context is needed when analyzing doctors' earnings. Rather than compare compensation figures among the U.S. and countries with dissimilar societies and economies, it's more useful to compare physicians' compensation relative to others in the top 5% of the income bracket. The talent pool that supplies doctors also likely produces other high earners: business executives and lawyers, for instance. Harvard economist David Cutler did this comparison and found that U.S. physicians were less well-paid than non-U.S. doctors relative to their high-earning peers.

Also, consider the significant financial capital it takes to become a doctor in the U.S.: Not including the cost of an undergraduate degree, the median four-year tuition of a private U.S. medical school is $286,806, and physicians must complete a three- to seven-year residency before they can practice independently. Duke University researcher Christopher Conover calculated that while the rate of return on that education investment was respectable for doctors, it paled in comparison with those who pursued degrees with shorter and less expensive training, such as business or law.

And let's not forget administrative costs such as the salaries of health insurance and hospital executives. They make up 20% to 30% of all health care costs. The average health insurer CEO base pay was $583,700; for a hospital administrator, $236,800.

Finally, slashing physician salaries won't move the needle much on health costs. Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt estimates doctor salaries constitute about 10% of total health costs. If physician pay were cut in half, we'd save a paltry 5%.

Those who want to bring the earnings of U.S. doctors in line with those of Europe must also offer government-subsidized medical education and nationally regulated medical malpractice systems that many European nations enjoy. Better yet, stop targeting physicians, and focus on other factors that have a much bigger impact on health costs, such as wasteful spending and administrative overhead.

Kevin Pho, a primary care physician, blogs at MedPage Today's KevinMD.com and is on USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

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