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Not All Federal Physicians Eligible for Extra Pay Allowance Actually Get It

by U.S. Medicine

August 31, 2011

WASHINGTON — Of the nearly 19,482 full-time civilian physicians employed by the federal government, about 9% were eligible for Physicians Comparability Allowance (PCA) payments, but only 7% actually received it in FY 2010.

That information was included in an annual report on the PCA this summer by the Office of Personnel Management. The report found that the largest users of PCA were the Department of the Army, Bureau of Prisons, and the NIH. These agencies comprised of 62% of all PCA recipients.

The report also showed that, while the number of physicians receiving PCA increased from FY 2009 to FY 2010 from 1,274 to 1,419, the number of physicians eligible to receive the payment dropped from 3,196 to 1,833.

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The PCA statute authorizes federal agencies documenting severe recruitment and retention problems to pay an allowance to physicians up to $14,000 per year for physicians with 24 months or less of service as a government physician and up to $30,000 per year for physicians with more than 24 months of service as a government physician.

For FY 2010, 849 physicians in DoD were eligible for PCA, while only 646 received it. In HHS, 596 physicians were eligible for PCA, while 418 actually received it. For Bureau of Prisons, 220 were eligible, while 201 received it.

Dennis Boyd, executive director for the Federal Physicians Association, said it is possible that some physicians eligible for PCA pay may not have received it if an agency stipulated that it does not have a recruitment or retention problem. Or, in the case of DoD, where there might be only one physician at an installation, it is possible that the installation commander might not know the PCA exists, he added.

According to the report, “PCA-eligible physicians were generally covered by Title 5, United States Code, as General Schedule employees of Senior Executive Service members. Most of the non-PCA Federal civilian physicians are covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs physicians pay system.”

Boyd told U.S. Medicine that his organization would like to see OPM’s annual report on the PCA replaced by one that includes the pay of all civilian physicians in the federal government, sorted by medical specialty and geographic area.

“We really want that report scrapped altogether in favor of a report that covers all types of physician pay, including Title 38, Title 42 and Title 5. We want it, if we could get it by specialty and geographic area, because so much of physician pay is pending on market pay,” he said.

The FPA believes a more comprehensive annual report would be a first step in helping eliminate federal physician pay inequities by educating physicians on what they should be paid, he said.

“Otherwise, physicians have no idea what their pay should be based on the pay of their colleagues,” said Boyd. “There is nothing for a physician to look at say, ‘Well I am in this specialty, I have this many years and I am in this geographical area.’ Nowhere can you find any information on what your colleagues are being paid, so you don’t know whether you are getting overpaid or underpaid or what.” http://www.fedphy.org/

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