Anesthesiologists ask for investigation on alleged UnitedHealth anti-competitive actions

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The American Society of Anesthesiologists called on the Justice Department Oct. 7 to have its Antitrust Division investigate alleged anti-competitive behavior from UnitedHealth Group. 

The letter alleges UnitedHealth Group's termination of contracts with anesthesiologists is forcing them to work out-of-network, thereby incentivising patients to use the company's own anesthesiologists, according to an Oct. 7 news release.

The group also claims that UnitedHealth Group's vertical integration allows it to steer UnitedHealthcare members toward the anesthesiologists under Optum, which it also owns.The letter alleges steering patients toward Optum's anesthesiologists and thinning its external provider network allows UnitedHealth Group to increase profits at the expense of out-of-network anesthesiologists. 

In areas where UnitedHealth Group asserts market dominance, American Society of Anesthesiologists members are feeling the strain, according to the news release. 

A UnitedHealthcare spokesperson told Becker's that the organization is able to reach competitive agreements with the strong majority of groups — including anesthesiologists — it negotiates with. 

"Unfortunately, a small number of groups, many of which are private equity-backed, are working to protect their ability to continue charging egregiously high rates," a UnitedHealthcare spokesperson told Becker's. "The real reason many of them no longer participate in our network is because they expect to be paid double or even triple the median rate we pay other physicians providing the same services. While these egregiously high rates help meet profit expectations, they also drive up the cost of care and make health care less affordable for people across the country."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from UnitedHealthcare.

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