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Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy, left. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy ignited a firestorm this week after the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Noseworthy said the esteemed academic medical center would prioritize patients who have private health insurance over those who have Medicare and Medicaid for non-emergency procedures.

It was a damning statement — actively preferring people with better-paying coverage over the old and poor — but it reflected the unspoken policy of the hospital industry. Noseworthy also said this policy needed to happen so his not-for-profit organization "can be financially strong at the end of the year to continue to advance ... our mission."

We combed through eight years of the health system's financial documents to see if it was in peril. The gist: Mayo Clinic's finances are well above average.

Expand chart
Data: Mayo Clinic financial documents; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The numbers: Mayo Clinic's revenue has grown by more than 6% annually on average since 2009, reaching $11 billion in 2016 (making Mayo Clinic bigger than national companies like Hertz and Biogen). And more importantly, it is making a lot of money from its daily activities.

The changes Obamacare made to the health care system caused some fluctuation over the past eight years, but Mayo Clinic never had an operating margin below 4%. The margin was 8.5% in 2014, the first year of Obamacare's exchanges and Medicaid expansion.

Mayo's numbers are above the norm: The median operating margin for not-for-profit hospitals in 2015 was 3.4% and was lower in past years, according to Moody's Investors Service.

Patients with government insurance, especially Medicare, don't doom all hospitals. As health economist Austin Frakt has pointed out repeatedly, hospitals that lose money on Medicare often have dominant market power (like Mayo), charge higher private prices that are well above the fixed public rates, and are inefficient.

Mayo Clinic did not respond to questions about its financial documents and instead sent a statement that touted its uncompensated care. It also said commercially insured patients are needed to fund education and research for the future: "Balancing payer mix is complex and isn't unique to Mayo Clinic. It affects much of the industry, but it's often not talked about. That's why we feel it is important to talk transparently about these complex issues with our staff."

Go deeper

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

3 hours ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

4 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.