In the setting of national health care reform, we're looking for every possible way to cut costs. Should medical specialists make less? Should primary care physicians make more? Does it make sense to bridge the income gap? According to this recent paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine by Leigh et al, "Wages varied substantially across physician specialties and were lowest for primary care specialties." On MSNBC, you'll find a Reuters article titled, "Do specialist doctors make too much money?"
It's one thing to look at annual salary. When you combine that information with the average number of hours worked per week or month, you get a different perspective on these specialties. The reality is that some primary care physicians can earn a high salary if they're willing to work many hours. The average specialist can work fewer hours and still make more. If we increase the salary to primary care physicians, this won't improve the fact that our nation is spending so much money on health care, will it?
If we're reforming our national health care system to look more like the health systems found in other countries, we'll need many more primary care providers and fewer specialists. This won't be popular to our "consumerism" mentality given that so many patients demand to be seen by a specialist (even when they don't need that level of care).
Leigh JP, Tancredi D, Jerant A, Kravitz RL. Physician wages across specialties: informing the physician reimbursement debate. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Oct 25;170(19):1728-34.