White House summons UnitedHealth CEO as payment paralysis enters 3rd week

Biden administration officials demanded Tuesday that UnitedHealth Group take more steps to stabilize the U.S. health system following a national health payment crisis that hospitals, doctors and other health-care groups said is threatening their ability to fund their businesses and provide care.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, White House domestic policy chief Neera Tanden and other administration officials urged Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth, and other health industry leaders to make more emergency funding available to affected health-care providers, according to five people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting. Becerra and Tanden pushed UnitedHealth and other insurers in attendance to account for the premiums that they are collecting from patients but not paying out to health-care organizations, as unpaid medical bills pile up.

Meanwhile, health-care providers used the meeting to directly voice their payment concerns to Witty and other health insurers and warn about other unresolved problems, such as difficulties obtaining emergency funding from Medicaid plans, the people said.

The White House has also approached the issue as a cybersecurity crisis, with health-industry leaders warning that the Feb. 21 attack on Change Healthcare a subsidiary of UnitedHealth and the nation’s largest processor of medical claims — represents the most significant incident of its kind in the U.S. health system’s history. Hackers stole data about patients, encrypted company files and demanded money to unlock them. Change Healthcare has been offline ever since, crippling payments to tens of thousands of hospitals, physician groups and other organizations that rely on the company as a middleman. Government leaders and industry experts said they remain worried about the sensitive patient data stolen by the hackers and the possibility of other breaches.

Anne Neuberger, the White House deputy national security adviser, helped lead Tuesday’s meeting, two officials said. Government officials attended the meeting in person, while industry officials joined remotely, the people said.

The White House confirmed that officials met with UnitedHealth and other industry leaders but declined further comment. HHS and UnitedHealth did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Biden administration has pleaded with UnitedHealth to accelerate emergency funding to affected providers and to be more transparent. Health-care groups warn they are running out of cash to fund their operations as the payment crisis enters its third week.

“We urge UnitedHealth Group to take responsibility to ensure no provider is compromised by their cash flow challenges stemming from this cyberattack on Change Healthcare,” Becerra and acting labor secretary Julie Su wrote Sunday in an open letter to health-care leaders. Becerra and Su urged other private health plans to make emergency payments and called for help from other sectors of the U.S. health system, such as other processors of medical claims.

“While we believe payers have a unique responsibility and opportunity to address the challenge before us, we urge action on the part of any health care entity that can step up,” the officials wrote.

Biden officials do not have statutory authority to compel UnitedHealth and the other groups to make additional payments.

UnitedHealth announced a timeline last week to bring its network back online, saying it expects to begin testing and reestablishing its claims network March 18, but health-care leaders said they were bracing for additional weeks of continued disruption.

UnitedHealth has offered an emergency loan program through its Optum unit. However, providers have said the offers are insufficient to meet their needs, and administration officials have pressed the deep-pocketed company to set aside additional funding. UnitedHealth reported revenue of nearly $372 billion last year.

Officials have moved to stand up emergency funding for affected providers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Saturday that it would release emergency funds for physicians ensnared in the Change Healthcare hack.

Members of Congress and the health-care industry had panned federal officials for not making more help available for physicians and suppliers, saying that the smaller organizations needed emergency aid more than deeper-pocketed hospitals.

Source : www.washingtonpost.com

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