United, which reported 2013 third-quarter earnings of $1.6 billion on revenue of $30.6 billion, defended the terminations and said it would continue to offer broad choices and an expansive Medicaid Advantage network.
“Our focus is on offering access to physicians who in our view can provide quality, affordable care for more of the people enrolled in our plans,” said United spokeswoman Tracey Lempner. “Collaborating with a more focused network of physicians and other healthcare providers will help us offer higher quality and more affordable healthcare coverage for our members.”
She added that United's goals include building its network to foster more collaboration and encourage more use of primary care.
“We believe this will ultimately provide better outcomes for our members while we and others manage through severe government funding cuts and other factors impacting Medicare Advantage,” Lempner said.
The Connecticut medical society, however, accused the insurance company of “focusing on profits rather than patient care,” and declared in a statement that “United's decision jeopardizes the health of seniors by disrupting continuity of care and access to care.”
Dr. Michael Hunt, chief medical and chief medical information officer for the Bridgeport, Conn.-based St. Vincent Health Partners Physician Hospital Organization, said United's termination of physicians from its Medicare Advantage networks ran counter to AARP's senior advocacy efforts.
“How is this taking care of Medicare patients?” Hunt asked, adding that the “abrupt” terminations are not conducive to efforts within his state to promote care continuation. “That disruption violates everything we in the state of Connecticut have tried so hard to do.”
On Oct. 15, United announced it had reached an agreement in principle with the AARP to offer through the year 2020 “a portfolio of AARP-branded products” including Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D and other Medicare supplements.
AARP spokesman David Allen acknowledged that his organization has “heard from a small number” of members regarding United's action and was encouraging “any affected member, provider, or anyone else with questions or concerns” to contact United directly using the telephone number on the back of their policy ID cards.
“Recently, UnitedHealthcare adopted a new approach to managing the provider networks for their Medicare Advantage plans to meet the specific needs of their members,” Allen said. “This includes changing the size and makeup of their provider network. While AARP is aware of these changes, we have no direct influence or control over decisions or the process itself.”
Allen added that income AARP receives from branding arrangements helps lower membership dues and is also “plowed back” into AARP programs and services to improve the lives of people ages 50 years and older.
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks