UnitedHealthcare squeezes competition like a 'boa constrictor,' physicians say

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A large group of anesthesiologists is suing UnitedHealthcare in Colorado and Texas, alleging the health insurance giant is suppressing competition by forcing physicians out of its network and pushing hospitals to stop referring patients to them, according to The New York Times.

The lawsuits were filed March 31 by U.S. Anesthesia Partners, a physician-owned group that operates in nine states.

In Texas, the anesthesiologists claim the company uses "pressure campaigns" and bribes surgeons by paying them more if they steer patients away from U.S. Anesthesia Partners.  

The lawsuit filed in Colorado alleges UnitedHealthcare stifles competition and squeezes the practice from every angle "like a boa constrictor." The lawsuit further alleges UnitedHealthcare orchestrated a "group boycott," according to the Times

UnitedHealthcare denies the allegations. In a statement to the Times, the company said the lawsuits are "the latest example of the group's efforts to pressure us into agreeing to its rate demands and to distract from the real reason that it no longer participates in our network." 

The company said U.S. Anesthesia Partners and many other physician groups backed by private equity investors drive up the cost of care by demanding "to be paid double or even triple the median rate we pay other physicians providing the same services." 

UnitedHealthcare also said it's standard practice for insurers to encourage the use of physicians and hospitals within their networks, according to the Times

The physicians further allege there are conflicts of interest because UnitedHealth Group, the parent company of UnitedHealthcare, also offers medical services and competes with U.S. Anesthesia Partners. U.S. Anesthesia Partners alleges a medical practice that UnitedHealth has ownership interest in tried to recruit its physicians and encouraged them to challenge the noncompete clauses in their contracts, according to the Times

"United and its affiliates have extended their tentacles into virtually every aspect of health care, allowing United to squeeze, choke and crush any market participant that stands in the way of United's increased profits,” the physicians claim, according to the Times

Read the article from The New York Times here

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