UnitedHealth CEO questioned on network, reimbursement changes by lawmaker

U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., sent a letter to the CEO of UnitedHealth Group May 26 that questioned whether the health insurance company has moved to narrow its provider network and decrease reimbursement during the pandemic.

The letter, shared by Ms. Porter on Twitter, is addressed to UnitedHealth Group's CEO David Wichmann. She accused UnitedHealth of seeking higher profits amid the pandemic despite its financial stability. 

The insurance industry, so far, has largely avoided significant financial pressure from the pandemic since claims costs have fallen with the deferment of elective surgeries. Commercial insurers have committed billions of dollars to helping providers and members during the COVID-19 pandemic. UnitedHealth most recently said it will provide members $1.5 billion in rebates, and has accelerated $2 billion in payments to providers.

Still, Ms. Porter singled out UnitedHealth's profit projections for 2020, which remain high. In the letter she wrote, "Amidst these robust earnings, your company has taken actions which threaten the wellbeing of our patients, physicians, and other healthcare providers." She addressed reports from physicians who told her their office received termination notices from UnitedHealth Group in late 2019 and that the insurer hadn't increased their reimbursement rates in four years.  

Ms. Porter ended the letter by asking Mr. Wichmann to respond to several questions related to UnitedHealth's criteria for reimbursement and network changes by June 3. 

In an emailed statement shared with Becker's Hospital Review, a UnitedHealth spokesperson said, "We are committed to ensuring people have access to affordable care. That's why we waived cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and treatment and provided nearly $1.5 billion in support to our customers. In addition, we have accelerated nearly $2 billion in payments to providers and we have been actively working to extend our network contracts, reaching extension agreements with the vast majority of care providers. In fact, we have added more than 100,000 providers to our network over the past year, bringing the total to 1.3 million – the largest in the U.S."

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