Mayo Clinic holds news conference on SCOTUS ruling but won’t talk about it

FDAIt’s not common for reporters to get invited to a last-minute news conference when the entire call is geared toward not addressing the news of the day.

That is the type of event that the Mayo Clinic conducted Thursday after the Supreme Court upheld the heart of the Affordable Care Act – the individual mandate – in a narrow 5-4 ruling.

Dr. John Noseworthy began the call with reporters like this:

“As you know Mayo Clinic has no position on [political] issues, legislative bills and the like. We have not taken a position on the Affordable Care Act. We will not be taking a position on the Supreme Court decision either.”


Huh? Why are you holding a news conference after the ruling then? Why did reporters receive an email with the subject line – MEDIA ALERT: Mayo Clinic CEO Talks About SCOTUS Ruling?

Noseworthy went on to list how the ruling will have no impact on Mayo, how the organization has conducted itself in the past and will do so in the future. He reaffirmed Mayo’s commitment to honor its “moral imperative to innovate for the benefit of our patients and be steadfast in securing the future  of Mayo Clinic.”

And then he added, “Mayo has a long history of reforming to improve quality, improve effectiveness and better meet the needs of our patients and today’s decision will not change that course.”

That statement was slightly jarring because it seemed as if Noseworthy was saying that the Supreme Court, through its decision was undermining that effort.

Reporters tried variously to get Noseworthy to say something, anything, substantive related to today’s landmark decision. How will the decision affect the patients who come to Mayo and the doctors who treat them? How will the decision have an impact on the business side? Will it bring more patients? What about revenues? Are there any portions of the ACA that have the potential to benefit patients?

They got nothing.

At one point, I asked Noseworthy whether the urgency that we are seeing in payer-provider integration to rein in costs would have happened without the ACA. After all, a few weeks ago Mayo, without giving any financial details, announced a first-of-its-kind partnership with Minnesota payer Medica whereby the insurer would provide incentive pay to Mayo for keeping a patient population healthy.

Noseworthy responded that Mayo has lots of partnerships with many payers and that strategic decisions regarding partnerships are not timed to coincide with political events. But he did address the ACA for a second.

“In a broad sense, all of us in healthcare and all of us as U.S. citizens recognize that the rising costs of healthcare are such that we need to continually refine how we do our work. So there is that pressure without question. Did the ACA increase that pressure? Well, perhaps but this is a trend that has been going on for some time and we have been working for well over a decade to refine our business models to make them affordable to patients,” Noseworthy said.

Reporter Shane Delaney of KIMT  television station  perhaps did the best job of underscoring the ridiculousness of Mayo skirting the issue when it has engaged in this debate previously. He referred to a 2007 New York Times article that portrayed how after 18 months of deliberations, Mayo Clinic was recommending universal health insurance for everyone  and had sent its recommendations to Congress and presidential candidates. At the time President Obama was candidate Obama and Mayo was run by Dr. Denis Cortese.

Delaney asked: “Being that the individual mandate was upheld this morning, basically a mirror of what the Mayo Clinic recommended back in 2007, do you think the Mayo  Clinic had a say or pull in the shaping of the law those many years ago?”

Here’s how Noseworthy responded:

“Well you picked out a statement five years ago probably out of a sea of tens of thousands of statements that other groups have made. One never knows when one’s message is being heard especially in a political situation such as the country’s been in. Mayo has had a consistent message forever. We are there for the patient and we hope the healtcare system supports high value healthcare. I hope that message has been heard. Whether it’s been heard by one particular candidate, or one politicalparty, or one particular bill is speculative.”

I hold the Mayo Clinic in high regard for the quality of its unparalleled care. That is why I chose to go there for my mom’s elective cornea replacement surgery knowing that I would have to drive 80 miles regularly for a few months. So it’s not like I have an ax to grind.

But today’s event was just weird. And the Clinic’s ongoing insistence to eschew any substantive discussions on the business of healthcare and talk only about its moral imperative to care for patients, has been in general, rather frustrating.

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