Mayo Clinic's chief executive told Minnesota business leaders Wednesday that he has pressed the Trump administration to maintain federal research funding and keep the nation's borders open to patients needing care and doctors who seek training.
"I've made the point to Reince Priebus [Trump's chief of staff] that the nation needs a global talent pool for research and medicine and that sick patients from all over the world must be able to come to America and Mayo Clinic for their health," Dr. John Noseworthy said in a talk to the Economic Club of Minnesota.
Immigration restrictions proposed by the Trump administration have presented potential obstacles for foreign doctors in certain nations to practice and train in the United States.
Tighter borders also could be problematic to Mayo, which brands itself as a global destination that treats patients from 140 countries every year.
Noseworthy also said he encouraged President Trump to maintain national medical research funding, even though the president recently proposed an 18.3 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health — one of the primary funders of medical research.
He added that Mayo has not participated in the national debate over the American Health Care Act, the Republican health bill scheduled for a vote in the U.S. House on Thursday, which has raised concern over projections that it would save money but increase the nation's uninsured population.
But he said Mayo has been discussing changes in veterans' health care and has had a meaningful advisory relationship with almost every president since Abraham Lincoln.
Dialing back 'prioritizing'
At the start of the 30-minute speech, Noseworthy also backtracked from a recent, controversial policy statement in which he told staff to "prioritize" patients with private insurance over publicly insured patients with equivalent conditions, a strategy aimed at stabilizing Mayo's finances.
Publicly funded patients "are and will continue to be scheduled exactly the same way as patients with commercial insurance," he said Wednesday, adding that "government-insured patients get the same care as the business leader in the next room."
The comments sought to diffuse concerns that Mayo might be violating its medical mission, or even federal civil rights or health care regulations.
The state's Human Services commissioner said she was scrutinizing Mayo's admission practices following Noseworthy's original remarks, which were reported last week by the Star Tribune.
In his original comments, made in a video presentation to Mayo staff late last year, the CEO said changes were needed in admissions because Mayo had reached a "tipping point" of growing numbers of patients insured by Medicaid and Medicare, which typically pay hospitals far less than private health insurance.
In Wednesday's remarks, Noseworthy said Mayo has been in contact with Gov. Mark Dayton and the state Human Services Department to assure them that Mayo is open to Medicaid patients and is meeting federal and state requirements.
In a news conference following the speech, he said he regretted using the term "prioritize" to suggest privately insured patients would receive any preferential scheduling.
But he said he is asking all staff to pursue strategies to increase the mix of patients at Mayo's Rochester hospital who have private insurance, a strategy other hospitals have pursued. "We need to grow our commercial business, but that's not at the expense of Medicaid patients," he said.
As for his advice to Trump, Noseworthy acknowledged that it wasn't necessarily heeded. "We've given advice," he said. "It hasn't all been taken."