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August 18, 2021
David Burda
Economics System Dynamics

Overpaid and Untrusted Healthcare Executives

If an individual’s compensation is commensurate with his or her performance, then health insurance and hospital executives really stink at their jobs.

That slap to executive egos is brought to you by a new public opinion poll conducted by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Health and the Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. You can download the survey results here

The pollsters asked a representative sample of 1,071 adults a number of questions,  including whether they thought different types of healthcare professionals were underpaid, overpaid or paid about right. By far, the public thinks that health insurance and hospital executives aren’t doing enough to earn their hefty paychecks. 

Ranked by the percentage of respondents who said the healthcare professional was overpaid were:

  • Health insurance executives (73 percent)
  • Hospital executives (68 percent)
  • Doctors (36 percent)
  • Medical administrative workers (23 percent)
  • Pharmacists (20 percent)
  • Physical therapists (12 percent)
  • Nurses (6 percent)
  • Healthcare aides (3 percent)

Now, before you can say that the representative sample of 1,071 adults was clearly uninformed and perhaps unclear about how the healthcare system really works and the value executives bring to the table, the results get worse if you break them out by education level. 

Eighty-three percent of the respondents with a college education said health insurance executives are overpaid compared with 66 percent who didn’t have a college degree. Further, 79 percent with a college degree said hospital executives are overpaid compared with 61 percent without a college education. So, the more know, the more you know? I don’t know.

Adding more salt to the wound, the pollsters asked respondents whom they trust more or less—hospital executives, doctors, nurses or pharmacists. Hospital executives finished last again: 

  • 75 percent said they trust hospital executives some or almost none of the time
  • 27 percent said they trust doctors some or almost none of the time
  • 22 percent said they trust pharmacists some or almost none of the time
  • 19 percent said they trust nurses some or almost none of the time

The big winner in this consumer poll was nurses. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents said nurses are underpaid. That was second only to healthcare aides at 61 percent. And 79 percent of the respondents said they trust nurses most or almost most of the time. That was the highest of any profession.

I don’t know if there are any thoughtful insights or grand takeaways from the poll results. They’re pretty much what you‘d expect. People like people they meet face to face more than faceless corporate execs who they don’t meet. In that regard, healthcare, again, is just like any other industry.

That said, it’s always good to know what your customers think of you, even if it’s not much. 

Thanks for reading.  

About the Author

David Burda

Dave Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personal experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 35 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 35 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.


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