New York investigates UnitedHealth algorithm after racial bias claims

New York's Department of Financial Services is investigating whether an algorithm used by UnitedHealth Group is racially biased after a study published Oct. 24 found the algorithm prioritized care for white patients over black patients, according to The Wall Street Journal.

New York's financial and health departments sent a joint letter Oct. 25 to David Wichmann, chief executive of UnitedHealth, as a first step in the investigation. The letter asked the company to either prove the algorithm isn't racially biased or to stop using it, according to The Wall Street Journal. Under New York law, insurers are prohibited from relying on, producing or advancing a discriminatory algorithm, the letter said. 

The algorithm is part of a broader tool UnitedHealth offers to analyze patients' needs, a company spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal. The spokesperson did not comment on the letter or state investigation. 

If the investigation finds the algorithm violates state antidiscrimination laws, UnitedHealth could face enforcement action and fines, with each violation worth up to $1,000.

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