Many point to the high salaries of chief executive officers (CEOs) as a major cause for the rising costs of health care in the United States. The health care sector includes hospital management firms, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), biotechnology and a variety of medical products. The highest salaries in the sector tend to be in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders

Brent Saunders has built a fortune on brokering mega acquisitions. Shortly after becoming CEO of Actavis in July 2014, he led the company's $66 billion acquisition of Allergan PLC (NYSE: AGN) and moved the company to Ireland to slash the company's taxes. The new company kept the Allergan name and Saunders as its CEO. Proving his previous deals were just a warmup act, Saunders pulled off the largest merger and acquisition (M&A) deal of 2015 by announcing the company’s $160 billion acquisition of Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE).

While it was widely believed that Saunders would take over the CEO position of the newly created company, he instead serves as the right-hand man for Ian Read, Pfizer's current skipper. Saunders' last reported annual compensation package with Allergan was worth $36.6 million. The newly created company is the largest drug company in the world, and even if Saunders chooses to walk away and cash out, he stands to make nearly $190 million.

Community Health Systems CEO Wayne Smith

One of the most tenured executives in the hospital industry, Wayne Smith joined Community Health Systems Inc. (NYSE: CYH) in 1997 as its CEO. Since taking the helm, Smith has grown Community Health into the largest provider of general hospital health care services in the United States. As of 2015, the company owns, leases or operates 198 hospitals in 29 states.

In August 2015, Smith announced the company plans to spin off 28 hospitals and its management consulting subsidiary, Quorum Health Resources, in 2016. The new publicly traded company is Quorum Health Corporation (NYSE: QHC). As a reward for the company’s growth, Smith receives an annual compensation package valued at $26.4 million.

Merck Chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier

When he was named the CEO of Merck & Company (NYSE: MRK) in 2011, Kenneth Frazier became the first African American to lead a major US. pharmaceutical company. His career path looks much different from most health care executives. He is a Harvard Law School graduate and was in private practice for 16 years before joining Merck's public affairs division as general counsel in 1992.

Frazier was named senior vice president and general counsel of the company in 1999 and served as executive vice president and president of the global human health unit from 2007 to 2010 before taking over as CEO. Frazier's annual compensation package from Merck is valued at $25 million.

Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky

Alex Gorsky is a graduate from the US. Military Academy at West Point. He spent six years in the US. Army, serving in the United States, Europe and Panama, and earned the Ranger tab and Airborne wings. He began his career in pharmaceuticals in 1988 as a sales representative at Janssen Pharmaceutical, a unit of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), and continued to climb the ladder in various sales, marketing and management positions. In 2001, Gorsky was named president of Janssen. He was company group chairman for Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon in 2008 and was named the CEO of Johnson & Johnson in 2012. His annual compensation package is valued at $25 million.

Pfizer Chairman and CEO Ian Read

Beginning his career with Pfizer in 1978 as an operational auditor, Scottish-born Ian Read has steadily risen in the ranks over the years. He worked in Latin America through 1995 as the CFO of Pfizer Mexico and as the country manager of Brazil, served as the president of Pfizer's international group and as a corporate vice president. He served as senior vice president from 2006 until being named the company's CEO in 2010. Following the merger with Allergan, Read stayed on as the CEO of the world’s largest drug company. His annual compensation package is valued at $23.3 million.

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