State Officials Go To Bat For UnitedHealthcare Docs, Patients
State officials have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of a lawsuit that would bar UnitedHealthcare from terminating contracts with doctors in its Medicare Advantage network.
The complaint was made by the Fairfield County Medical Association and the Hartford County Medical Association after UnitedHealthcare began dropping physicians from its Medicare Advantage network in October.
Earlier this month, a U.S. district court judge sided with the medical associations and issued an injunction against the insurance company, which has appealed the decision. Meanwhile, federal regulators — who reviewed the decision at the behest of Attorney General George Jepsen —concluded the company’s provider networks were adequate.
This week, Jepsen and state Healthcare Advocare Victoria Veltri filed a joint brief in support of the medical associations as the case moves to the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. In a separate brief, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, also backed the medical associations.
Jepsen and Veltri argued that the state has an interest in protecting elderly and vulnerable citizens from having their medical services disrupted. They called the terminated contracts an “unlawful” move that could impact as many as 10,000 Connecticut residents.
“The sheer size and scope of the physician terminations are, in the State Amici’s experience, unprecedented in Connecticut,” they wrote. “Though United has refused to disclose to Connecticut the exact number of physicians terminated or the number of enrollees affected, the District Court found that United has unilaterally, and without proper cause, terminated more than 2,000 physicians from its MAP.”
UnitedHealthcare spokeswoman Jessica Pappas said Tuesday that the company encourages its members to contact them with any questions about their doctor’s status or any other issues. She said they can call the number on the back of their membership card or by dialing 1-888-332-8883.
“The changes we are making to our network will encourage higher quality and more affordable Medicare coverage. Our focus is on supporting our members and helping them access the care they need,” Pappas said.
In his brief, Blumenthal included some specific examples of residents and doctors who have been impacted by the terminations. A doctor in Stafford Springs, who describes himself as the only full-time family medical practice in town, said United’s decision to drop him will create a “next to impossible situation” for many of his clients who will no longer have a provider in town.
Blumenthal said the appeals court should extend the lower court’s ruling to all doctors and stop the company from dropping doctors.
“I want to make sure that the court hears the voices of these patients,” Blumenthal said at a Monday press conference. “We give them life stories [in the brief] of people who are direly affected by this . . . abuse by UnitedHealthcare. It should not be abusing these elderly patients.”
The court is expected to hold a hearing on UnitedHealthcare’s appeal sometime in January.