By JACK WEATHERLY
Physicians in Mississippi – one of the poorest states – are the eighth-highest paid in the nation, according to Medscape.com.
Rural areas are medically underserved because of the shortage of doctors, and Mississippi is the least competitive among all states.
“Numerous government policies are aimed at improving access to physicians in these areas. As a result, higher incomes are found in these regions,” Medscape states in its latest report.
A major factor is the workload for Mississippi physicians, said Dr. Dan Edney, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association.
“There are so few of us, that, compared to our patient demands, that physicians all through our state work significantly longer hours . . . than our peers around the country,” Edney said in an interview.
The state ranks 50th in physicians per capita, he said.
Mississippi and the rest of the predominantly rural Southeast, as defined by Medscape, rank second at $287,000 in average annual compensation for physicians behind the North-Central region at $296,000.
The Northeast, which includes densely populated New York and Massachusetts, ranks last among the nine regions delineated by Medscape at $266,000. The rest of the Eastern Seaboard, the mid-Atlantic states, averaged $268,000.
The 10 states with the highest pay are in “fairly rural states,” Edney notes.
Some doctors in those states are compensated more in health-care shortage areas, but otherwise physicians across the nation are reimbursed the same by Medicaid, Edney said.
Physicians’ work is measured in “relative value units,” he said. “Our RVU’s are much higher in Mississippi than in other parts of the country.”
Because of the workload, “in order to recruit physicians, we’ve got to pay more.”
That, coupled with the low cost-of-living in Mississippi, helps recruiting.
Quality of life is a recruitment magnet.
“California has glut of physicians, which drives their incomes down. Yet that is where a lot of doctors want to go to practice, for quality of life reasons.” In 2015, California was fifth most expensive state to live in, according to CNBC.
Yet quality of life is a subjective matter.
A native of the state and lifelong resident, Edney said, “We realize that some of the biases against living in the Deep South just aren’t true. So it’s a lot easier to recruit somebody from Alabama, Georgia or Tennessee.”
But if “you want to recruit somebody from New Jersey, good luck.”
Mississippi’s out-of-state recruitment is also more successful with what Medscape calls the North-Central region — the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and so on – which are also rural, he said.
“Our best bet is . . . to grow our own – physicians that go to school in Mississippi, train in Mississippi are more likely to stay.”
International medical school graduates are heavily recruited to the state, Edney said. “The J1 Visa program allows physicians from around the world to come to health-care shortage areas like Mississippi, as long as they’re willing to go to a rural area.”
Another factor in Mississippi’s favor is that its “tort climate is better than other parts of the country,” Edney said.
The Legislature passed the 2004 Tort Reform Act, which radically lowered awards against physician businesses, while lowering premiums.
Proponents hailed the law as an end to “jackpot justice,” while opponents bemoaned what they considered to be a curtailing of just awards in malpractice suits.
“It wasn’t a matter of being being able to get affordable insurance; it was a matter of being able to get any insurance,” Edney said. “We were literally hemorrhaging doctors 12 years ago. And now the flow is moving back the other way.”
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