Mayo Clinic CEO tempers recent comments on preferential treatment to privately insured

Dive Brief:

  • Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy walked back some recent comments where he said to employees the health system will prioritize patients with private insurance over those with Medicaid.
  • “Patient medical need will always be the primary factor in determining and setting an appointment," Noseworthy wrote in a statement posted March 17. "In an internal discussion I used the word ‘prioritized’ and I regret this has caused concerns that Mayo Clinic will not serve patients with government insurance. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, about half of the total services we provide are for patients who have government insurance, and we’re committed to serving those patients."
  • Since 2009, the health system's annual revenue has increased on average by at least 6%, Axios' Bob Herman reported, adding that revenues hit $11 billion in 2016.

Dive Insight:

Noseworthy's statement — which ran into some criticism — highlights how sensitive the hospital business can be. Politicians are battling on Capitol Hill whether healthcare is a right or a privilege while hospital CEOs are figuring out how to turn a profit while saving lives. While Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization, this natural push and pull between care and profits in the U.S. healthcare system can sometimes be at odds with each other.

After Noseworthy's comments came to light, some discussed the impacts of patient preference based on insurance. Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper, for one, told the Post Bulletin, she was "surprised and disturbed" over the Noseworthy's original comments. 

"Changing demographics, aging of Americans and budgetary pressures at state and federal government pose challenges to the fiscal sustainability in healthcare today," Noseworthy wrote on Friday. "While these discussions are uncomfortable, they are critical for us to be able to meet the needs of all of our patients."

As Herman notes, Mayo isn't struggling financially. Still, Noseworthy's original comments acknowledge that someone always pays for healthcare services. They also show how sensitive a business perspective in healthcare can be. On one hand, patients are at their most vulnerable when entering a hospital to get the care they need. On the other, someone must pay for that care. Hospitals do think about uncompensated care, but it's another level to think of prioritizing one patient versus another because of the means or ability to pay.

While Noseworthy's earlier comments highlight how U.S. healthcare is a business, his Friday comments show how politically sticky that can be when publicly acknowledged.

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Filed Under: Hospital Administration
Top image credit: Wikipedia