Memo from the Editor

May 5, 2006

What defines charity care?

At the end of March, the Center for Studying Health System Change released a report showing a decade-long decline in the percentage of physicians providing charity care-from 76 percent in 1996 to 68 percent last year.

"Declines in charity care were observed across most major specialties, practice types, practice income levels and geographic regions," the authors noted. One of the reasons, they speculate, is "increasing financial pressures."

My response: "No, du-uh!"

Grand total that three physicians have "given away": $620. On one patient in four visits.

I'm not sure who the "charity" is here, but I sure don't think doctors should be taken to task for delivering less charity care over the last decade.

In that same period of time, physicians' incomes have made meager gains, when they've made any at all. In fact, our 2005 survey (of 2004 income) showed median compensation for all respondents flat at $180,000. And that's roughly $20,000 above the 1996 net of $160,740. Hardly a princely increase over nearly a decade.

I am concerned that the number of uninsured people in this country is growing. I am concerned that we as a nation can't seem to care for all our citizens. But it's not the office-based, private-practice physician's job to solve that particular problem.

God bless those who provide charity care-and that's still nearly seven out of 10 physicians. But until society or its elected representatives decide that medical care is valuable enough to compensate appropriately, let's not be surprised if charity care continues to decline.