Booker calls on CMS, UnitedHealth, BCBS & more to address bias in healthcare algorithms

Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., published a series of letters Dec. 3 asking CMS, the Federal Trade Commission and the nation's five leading health insurers to outline the actions they are taking to reduce algorithmic bias in healthcare.

The letters are addressed to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons and executives at UnitedHealth Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana and Aetna. In them, Mr. Booker and Mr. Wyden reference the recent findings that a popular algorithm sold by UnitedHealth Group's Optum exhibited significant racial bias by inaccurately calculating the number of black patients in need of extra care.

"In using algorithms, organizations often attempt to remove human flaws and biases from the process," the senators wrote. "Unfortunately, both the people who design these complex systems and the massive sets of data that are used have many historical and human biases built in. Without very careful consideration, the algorithms they subsequently create can further perpetuate those very biases."

Mr. Booker and Mr. Wyden requested information from the FTC and CMS about the scope of and possible solutions to the challenge of algorithmic bias in healthcare, and proposed an FTC investigation of the impact of this bias on marginalized communities. They also called on the payer executives to share details about the algorithms their organizations use to improve care and any safeguards in place to prevent bias.

View all three letters here.

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