Where’s Our Minimum Wage Hike?

August 7, 2015

Radiologists could use the extra cash, too.

It’s been a recurring theme in recent news (and non-newsworthy political grandstanding): People aren’t earning enough for the work they do, and there needs to be a hike of the government-mandated floor to their hourly income.

The nuts and bolts as to whether there should even be a minimum wage, how much is reasonable/feasible, and what the consequences (intended and un-) of such New Rule-making might tend to get less airtime, or at most dismissed as naysaying from nefarious corporate fat cats.

The bottom line, proponents say, is that too many hard working folks pursuing the American Dream have gone too long without a raise, and meanwhile the cost of living (and income of those greedy 1%ers) has never stopped rising. Time, then, for their employers to be forced to cough up more dough…whether or not the employees actually generate enough revenue to pay for the higher wages.

Some time may need to pass for us to know how things actually play out as a result of these recent minimum-wage interventions. On the other hand, maybe not. Things aren’t working out so well for Gravity Payments after its experimentation with the notion of paying folks extra because, well, it just seemed like a nice thing to do. Then, there’s the response of businesses like McDonald’s, replacing workers who may now cost too much to retain with automation like kiosks and robotics (although, to be fair, Snopes disputes this).

That said, since some municipalities like Seattle and New York (at least for fast food joints) are bound and determined to plunge ahead with this noble social experiment and worry about the consequences later…such as when another politician is in office and gets stuck with the price tag)…it seems that momentum is on the side of giving people raises because they haven’t had one in awhile.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"40173","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_8677961220021","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"4088","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 221px; width: 200px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©C.D.S./Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Some of us, trying to run businesses with employees who are only worthwhile when they cost less than they produce, might balk at this. As radiologists, however, I would suggest that maybe we should be surfing this wave rather than crashing into it head on.

Using the same rationale, it can be argued that we are overdue for a raise, ourselves. The cost of living (and doing business) has gone up for us at least as much as for burger-flippers, and far more when you think about the bureaucratic and regulatory mess our field continues to become. Is it even possible to provide X-rays at anything but a loss now? When was the last time radiology saw a real increase in reimbursement?

I think we’ve gotten to the point where a year without cuts strikes us as downright Christmassy. Indeed, there was borderline rejoicing in online forums when the “proposed rule” for 2016 Medicare contained no decreases for diagnostic radiology (you know a field’s professionals are beaten down when there isn’t even a whimper of complaint about the lack of an increase). Meanwhile, as minimum wages and their fallout take effect around us, our cost of living and doing business-surprise!-goes up that much more to support the societal largesse.

So, yes, I think we need to get on the bandwagon of demanding more payment for doing what we do, no matter what the spreadsheets and fiscal realities say. The best part of this is that, rather than having to pass contentious legislation strong-arming businesses for the purpose, CMS can directly carry out this social justice by cranking up its reimbursement rates. Doubling them seems fair to me…after all, hiking the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour was even better than double.

Sure, the naysayers will squawk that such moves would be unsustainable…but remember, it’s the Right Thing To Do™. And if it leads to an ocean of red ink for the country and its taxpayers…well, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. It’s not as if we’ve seen other countries (*cough*, Greece, *cough*) get into hot water by failing to look where they were financially leaping.