The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 17, 2013

Our View: Partnership should improve care, lower costs

The Free Press

— Anyone worried about the future affordability of health care and the cost of health insurance should be able to feel a little bit more hopeful with the announcement that Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth will join together to develop a health care and cost research lab.

The renowned Mayo Clinic, a world leader in treatment and prevention, will join with UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. provider of medical insurance, to research best practices for efficiently delivered, results oriented health care.

The entity formed will be called Optum Labs, a Bell-Labs-like innovation center charged with the research using 5 million case records from Mayo's system with 110 million case records from United's system. The names will be removed from all the records to alleviate privacy concerns.

That kind of data allows the two entities to come up with best practices protocol on a "grand scale" says Mayo CEO John Noseworthy. UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley described the venture as one where assets, technology, tool and research scientists are brought together in on facility dedicated to the purpose developing best protocols for treatment.

The facility will be set up in Cambridge, Mass., not far from MIT and other institutions of higher education and research.

The new lab couldn't provide research too early. It's badly needed in our health care system that is still wrought with trial and error type medicine that has become very costly and will overwhelm the American taxpayer's ability to pay for it should we continue on this path.

Terms of the deal were disclosed but its sure to be a significant investment with an initial staff of 60 people.

Hemsley said that eventually the two organization would invite others in the health care industry to join them in their research.

While skeptics can always challenge the advisability of a large medical provider and large medical insurance company getting together, both entities in this case have motivation to do this kind of research. It's less costly and can provide better outcomes. More and more that will be the model for payments the government may end up providing through new health care exchanges and its Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It also can't help but put downward pressure on the costs of ineffective treatments that have become to ingrained a part of our fee-for-service system.

Very few Americans want to see their neighbors go without health insurance, and that is one reason health care reform was passed. But very few taxpayers also aren't concerned about taxes and health care costs.

Collaboration like the Mayo-UnitedHealth can help address in a positive way both of those concerns.