Differences in Clinical Activity and Medicare Payments for Female vs Male Ophthalmologists

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Abstract

Importance

The number of women in ophthalmology is rising. Little is known about their clinical activity and collections.

Objective

To examine whether charges, as reflected in reimbursements from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to ophthalmologists, differ by sex and how disparity relates to differences in clinical activity.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Retrospective review of the CMS database for payments to ophthalmologists from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2013. The dates of the analysis were February 1 through May 30, 2016. After exclusion of J and Q codes, the total payments to and the number of charges by individual ophthalmologists were analyzed. The mean values were compared using a single t test, and the medians were compared by the nonparametric Wilcoxon rank sum test.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Primary outcome measures were the mean and median CMS payments to male and female ophthalmologists in outpatient, non–facility-based settings. Secondary outcome measures included the number of charges submitted by men and women and the types of charges most commonly submitted by men and women.

Results

This study included 16 111 ophthalmologists (3078 women [19.1%] and 13 033 men [80.9%]) in 2012 and 16 179 ophthalmologists (3206 women [19.8%] and 12 973 men [80.2%]) in 2013. In 2012, the average female ophthalmologist collected $0.58 (95% CI, $0.54-$0.62; P < .001) for every dollar collected by a male ophthalmologist; comparing the medians, women collected $0.56 (95% CI, $0.50-$0.61; P < .001) for every dollar earned by men. Mean and median collections were similar when comparing female vs male ophthalmologists in 2013 (P < .001). The mean payment per charge was the same for men and women, $66 in 2012 and $64 in 2013. There was a strong association between collections and work product, with female ophthalmologists submitting fewer charges to Medicare in 2012 (median, 1120 charges; difference −935; 95% CI, −1024 to −846; P < .001) and in 2013 (median, 1141 charges; difference −937; 95% CI, −1026 to −848; P < .001) than male ophthalmologists. When corrected by comparing men and women with similar clinical activity, renumeration was still lower for women. In both years, women were underrepresented among ophthalmologists with the highest collections.

Conclusions and Relevance

Remuneration from the CMS was disparate between male and female ophthalmologists in 2012 and 2013 because of the submission of fewer charges by women. Further studies are necessary to explore root causes for this difference, with equity in opportunity and parity in clinical activity standing to benefit the specialty.

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