The Mayo Model: Miracle or Mirage?

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Today’s Washington Post has an interesting story that takes a more skeptical look at the Mayo Clinic model that is so often cited by President Obama and others as an example of where our health care system should be headed.

Is the secret of Mayo’s success the way it practices medicine, or its relatively upscale patients and the fact that it can shift some of its costs onto people who can afford to pay full freight? The story gives us arguments and evidence on both sides, and raises questions as to whether it’s really possible to duplicate the Mayo Model’s success elsewhere. It also points out that Mayo is rapidly becoming a big political player, with a financial interest in the outcome of the health care debate.:

Few dispute the prowess of Mayo, which brings in $9 billion in revenue a year and hosts 250 surgeries a day. But a battle is underway among health-care experts and lawmakers over whether its success can be so easily replicated. Before embracing a fundamentally new approach to health care, dissenting experts and lawmakers say, Congress should scrutinize the assumption that a Mayo-type model is the answer.

They point out that Mayo’s patients are wealthier, healthier and less racially diverse than those elsewhere in the country. It has few poor patients. It limits the number of procedures it performs per patient, but the rates it charges private insurers and self-paying patients is higher than average, allowing it to thrive despite the lower Medicare spending cited by its supporters.

Armed with their new stature, officials from Mayo and a handful of similar facilities have become determined lobbyists in their own right. They are pushing for an overhaul of Medicare that would reward cost-effective hospitals and doctors, while punishing others.

But if the Mayo model is, in fact, difficult for even the most dutiful hospitals elsewhere to mimic, such an overhaul could set up many providers nationwide for failure — and a big loss of funds.