Viewpoint: Beware Methodist Hospital ads in UnitedHealthcare feud

UnitedHealthcare members should carefully review their health plan policy before following Houston Methodist's advice to access the facility with "out-of-network benefits," an economist wrote in an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle.

In January, after UnitedHealthcare and Methodist Hospital ended their in-network agreement, Houston Methodist began advertising to patients with UnitedHealthcare coverage that even though the two ended contractual ties, UnitedHealthcare members could still access care with "out-of-network benefits." The split affected about 100,000 patients.

Vivian Ho, PhD, an academic at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston, cautioned UnitedHealthcare members against visiting Methodist Hospital's facilities without understanding the significant out-of-pocket costs that could await them.

"Most employer-sponsored insurance is relatively generous, but primarily for in-network care. For non-network care, the deductible and out-of-pocket maximum can be several thousand dollars higher," Dr. Ho writes. "And heaven forbid that your injury or illness is severe enough that your emergency room visit requires a hospital admission, because then you would be forced to pay an out-of-network hospital bill as well."

Back in January, when the ads first started appearing, a spokesperson for Houston Methodist said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle: "If a patient is treated out-of-network, their out-of-pocket costs will be more. But we will be clear about those costs up front and work with individuals if necessary on the out-of-pocket amounts."

Read the full op-ed here.

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