Sunday, February 14, 2010

Related letter to the editor on Mayo Clinic model and Medicare

In January, I wrote about the Mayo Clinic's satellite in Arizona dropping Medicare patients claiming it was financially unsustainable. (see "The Mayo Clinic decision signals the health care bill is "One Big Ass Mistake, America"). Besides being embarrassing for the Obama administration as he'd held it up as his model health delivery vehicle, it produced a lot of teeth gnashing. For many people, they always assumed nearly all doctors accepted Medicare, and certainly an institution like the Mayo Clinic would accept Medicare rates (no questions asked).

Mayo exists as a really weird historical quick of American Medicine. It established a reputation for excellence generations ago and managed to make that name a "franchise" for medical care. While Mayo has some fine clinicians, it's kind of well known among most surgeons that a place like Mayo has had a hard time keeping the talent happy in terms of compensation and selling rural Minnesota as a destination to live. It takes a certain kind of personality to accept the trade-offs of that clinic system, but security of such a protected & salaried position is certainly going to become more common.

Exactly how Mayo operates as to your insurance has always been confusing to many people, and the Medicare announcement had a lot of people looking for answers. I found a great letter to the Editor in a Boston Globe article that is the most succinct summary to date

I am a surgeon practicing in Phoenix, Arizona. I also grew up in Rochester, MN where my father was a physician at Mayo for 35+ years. It's time to set the record straight on the misconceptions of the Mayo Clinic as a model for efficiency.

1)Mayo does not take Medicare, as outlined in the article.
2)Mayo does not take Medicare supplements for new patients.
3)Mayo has never emphasized primary care and in fact closed their family practice program here in Phoenix at a time of acute shortage in our state, citing costs. Primary care is labor intensive
4)Mayo refuses to provide care to citizens of Phoenix, the city in which they reside, in need of specialty care in situations where their specialists have availability and where there are acute shortages in the community. Their decisions for taking patients is made by administrators, not doctors, based solely on insurance. Doctor to doctor requests are frequently denied.

5)The Dartmouth Study, touted by many as the proof of efficiency of the Model compared Medicare expenditures county by county, throughout the country. Mayo Rochester resides in a rural farming community, where Medicare usage would be expected to be low. But since Mayo does cares for virtually none of these Medicare patients, extrapolating the cost efficiency of Mayo is simply wrong.
6) Mayo's model is very much a boutique model, catering to the wealthy, those willing to pay extra or out of pocket for their care or those with very good indemnity insurance coverage. Mayo is not in network for virtually every HMO and PPO plan, based simply on the high reimbursements demanded by Mayo. Mayo quotes 2-4 times the cost for surgical procedures that those in the community at large get paid.
7)Mayo relies heavily on the$ 200-300M/year in endowment money each year, to supplement their payrolls, build their buildings, fund research, and fund their pension plan. The cost structure of the Mayo Clinic is prohibitive without this additional funding. In this recession, Mayo is having considerable difficulty because it has been having appealing to those who used to come out of pocket for perceived more individualized care.
7) Community physicians in Jacksonville and Phoenix/Scottsdale assume virtually all the care for those in need, regardless of ability to pay.

I have always been of the belief that Mayo has the perfect right to practice Medicine the way in which they believe. Their doctors are dedicated to their mission and contribute each and everyday to the growth of medical knowledge.

Please, however be honest about what the Mayo model is: exclusive medical care for those with means and those willing to pay considerably more for their services.



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