Wisconsin ranks 2nd among states as best for doctors, but has fallen in healthcare outcomes

    male doctor talks to mom and daughter patients in lab with xray
    Getty, creative images

    Doctors are always high on the list of professionals people rely on. But in the time of COVID-19, all healthcare workers are at the top of people’s minds when it comes to importance in our lives.

    Wisconsin is 2nd among the “Best States for Doctors,” according to personal-finance website WalletHub, which looks at data that seeks to help doctors decide where to practice.

    “Doctors are well compensated for the hard work they do to keep patients healthy,” the report states. “In fact, ‘physician’ was the highest-paid job type in 2019, with a median base salary of $193,415 and more than 3,700 job openings during the year… However, doctors don’t always start out wealthy.” According to Scientific American, the average medical-student graduates with roughly $194,000 debt.

    The methodology used to determine rankings used 19 metrics, including wages and starting salaries, both adjusted for cost of living. Note that some of the categories are not necessarily good for patients as well. 

    A ranking of first is the best and  25 is average. Here are some of Wisconsin’s marks:

    • 4th in average annual wage 
    • 12th in starting salary
    • 9th in insured population rate
    • 22nd in projected physicians per capita by 2026
    • 37th in hospitals per capita 
    • 1st in nationally accredited health departments
    • 7th in quality of the public hospital system
    • 27th in physician assistants per capita
    • 21st in physician burnout 
    • 1st in annual malpractice liability insurance rate
    • 30th in punitiveness of state medical board
    • 1st in the least expensive malpractice liability insurance
    • 3rd in the lowest malpractice award payout

    The only state scoring higher on average than Wisconsin was Montana. Wisconsin did best in categories tied to the medical environment coming in 4th, and dropped a bit to 16th when it comes to medical opportunity and competition. The worst state for doctors — coming in last in both those overarching categories — was New York. 

    Also worth noting is that in a WalletHub study in April 2019, Wisconsin ranked much lower — 19th — for nurses, coming in below average (28th) for nurses’ work environments.

    In another separate WalletHub report on best and worst places for health care, compiled in Aug. 2019, Wisconsin was ranked 16th, dragged down markedly for being near the bottom (45th) for healthcare costs. Our state did much better in access (6th) and outcomes (10th). We just pay dearly for that, apparently. (First place went to Minnesota; in last place was Alaska.) 

    Wisconsin falling

    Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) took a look at healthcare statistics overall in an editorial he penned on Friday about a different ranking — the 2019 United Health Foundation’s annual report. There, Wisconsin has fallen 16 spots over the past nine years. In 1990, Wisconsin was ranked 7th for healthcare outcomes. In 2019, the state ranked 23rd.

    Wisconsin’s worst five core measurements came under the areas of excessive drinking, pertussis, public-health funding, infant mortality and obesity — in that order.

    Wisconsin’s five best ratings, in order, were air pollution, the number of uninsured, high-school graduation, children in poverty and diabetes.

    This report ranks Vermont as the healthiest state and Mississippi as the least healthy according to 30 metrics, based on the World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Beyond individual genetic predispositions to disease, health is the result of behaviors, community environment, health policies/practices, prevention and clinical care.

    The desired outcome is “a long, disease-free, robust life for all individuals regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status.”

    After a series of conversations with healthcare experts, including physicians, at the UW Robert La Follette School of Public Affairs Health Policy Forum earlier this month, Smith says he places some of the blame on Republicans refusal to accept expanding BadgerCare.

    Sen. Jeff Smith

    Republicans have not found the political will to expand Medicaid, while neighboring states have, it’s not a coincidence this has been the result,” writes Smith.  “For each month that Republicans refuse to act, Wisconsin wastes approximately $13 million in state funding to pay for other states’ Medicaid programs. Over the next two years, Wisconsin would save $320 million, while lowering premiums for private insurance holders by 7 to 11 percent.”

    The forum Smith attended highlighted the public health challenges that he said included long-term care, nursing shortages, opioid abuse, broadband access for telehealth, patient protections and housing affordability. 

    “Let’s think ahead and think about others,” Smith concludes. “We should use our empathy for decision making so we can find our way out of this black hole of inaction. It’s lifesaving.”

    Melanie Conklin
    Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.