CHICAGO – The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) today called on the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice to perform a thorough investigation into the conduct of UnitedHealth Group (UHG), which is terminating participating provider agreements with anesthesia practices across the country at a high rate.
“High-quality, affordable anesthesia care is crucial for patient care,” said ASA President Beverly K. Philip, M.D., FACA, FASA. “UnitedHealth Group’s terminations of participating provider agreements with ASA member anesthesia practices are harming competition by forcing willing anesthesia practices ‘out-of-network.’ This results in higher out-of-pocket costs and reduced numbers of in-network anesthesiologists for patients, especially where UnitedHealth Group can do this to favor its own employed anesthesiologists.”
In a letter to the acting assistant attorney general, ASA explained that as UHG is vertically integrated, it has the ability and incentive to leverage its UnitedHealthcare (UHC) subsidiary’s status as a health insurer, including to favor UHG’s health care provider subsidiary, Optum, and its employed anesthesiologists unfairly.
The letter further points out that UHC also operates as a third-party administrator for employer sponsored health plans. Through the guise of a “shared savings” program, UHG has an incentive to reduce the number of in-network anesthesiologists to increase UHG’s profits, while increasing the fees and overall costs passed on to employers.
ASA further asserts that anesthesiologists have been harmed by being denied access to UHG’s members, particularly in areas of the country where UHG’s members represent a substantial share of commercially insured patients.
“The participating provider agreements that have been terminated were negotiated at arm’s length and mutually beneficial,” said Dr. Philip. “It is regrettable that UHG is taking steps to reduce access to in-network anesthesiologists and harming patients, employers, and anesthesiologists in the process.”
ABOUT THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF ANESTHESIOLOGISTS
Founded in 1905, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is an educational, research and scientific society with more than 54,000 members organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology. ASA is committed to ensuring physician anesthesiologists evaluate and supervise the medical care of patients before, during and after surgery to provide the highest quality and safest care every patient deserves.
For more information on the field of anesthesiology, visit the American Society of Anesthesiologists online at asahq.org. To learn more about the role physician anesthesiologists play in ensuring patient safety, visit asahq.org/madeforthismoment. Like ASA on Facebook and follow ASALifeline on Twitter.
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