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Texas Doctors Struggle To Keep Their Practices Afloat During The Pandemic

Gabriel C. Pérez

Physician practices in Texas are facing serious financial pressures as fewer patients come in to seek care during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a recent survey of more than 1,500 doctors in Texas, 68% report cutting their hours in the last several weeks. About 62% of doctors say they've had their salaries reduced. In Travis County, the situation is more dire – about 75% of doctors say their salaries were decreased.

Dr. Brian Temple, who has a pediatric practice in the Austin area, is among them.

He said he and other providers in his practice have had to cut their salaries by 30%.

“Most people think doctor’s offices are [jampacked] and they are just rolling in the dough,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are probably working more, answering questions, reassuring people … but none of that pays.”

Credit Texas Medical Association
Texas Medical Association

Temple said the pay cuts are an effort to retain staff in the coming weeks, but he said this isn’t feasible long term.

“Our revenue is down 50-60%,” he said. “And not only from the fear of coronavirus, people are just not coming in, but also we are doing virtual visits, which tend to pay less.”

Dr. Diana Fite, president of the Texas Medical Association, said her group conducted the survey because they began hearing stories of primary care and specialty care providers having trouble paying their bills and rent.

“They just had the problem that patients were not coming in because they were worried about coronavirus,” Fite said. “And many of these physician offices have very small profit margins, especially physicians who take a lot of patients on Medicaid and Medicare.”

Fite said the survey found a small percentage – about 4%– of doctors had been furloughed. She said she suspects most practices will “hang in there” during the pandemic, but some will probably have to close permanently. 

It will also probably take many years, Fite said, for physicians to recover. Many are dipping into savings or going into debt to stay afloat. She said this is an unprecedented situation for physicians.

“I have been in practice for over 40 years and I don’t recall every having anything happen like this,” Fite said.

Doctors are also concerned about the ramifications on their patients. Fite, who works in emergency care, said she is seeing patients delay getting care until they are in a serious medical crisis.

Temple said he has begun reaching out to families to make sure they get vaccines and other important medical services, as well as reassure them that it is safe to come into the office.

“Kids are still going to get sick,” Temple said. “We are missing kids that need to be seen.”

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio .

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Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016.
Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.