UnitedHealth cuts thousands of physicians from network

November 19, 2013

One of the top healthcare insurance companies is cutting thousands of doctors from its network. Are there more major cuts from large insurance companies in the horizon?

Physicians’ relationships with insurance companies are becoming even more strained during Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation. UnitedHealth Group is one of the first insurance companies to drop thousands of physicians from their network, according to the Wall Street Journal.

UnitedHealth, one of the top healthcare insurance companies in the country, is cutting at least 15% of physicians from its network in 10 states due to “significant changes and pressures in the healthcare industry” by the end of 2014, according to the Journal. Most of the cuts target physicians in the Medicare Advantage Program. UnitedHealth chief executive officer Jack Larsen bought full-page newspaper ads across the country explaining the company's decision, which disrupts thousands of patients, who may have to scramble to find new physicians in the next few months.

“We are working to collaborate with a more focused network of physicians to help us provide higher quality and more affordable healthcare coverage to meet the needs of our members, and help them get more from their health plan benefits,” Larsen said to the New York Post. “This work has become even more urgent in light of the severe funding reductions for Medicare Advantage plans that have come from Washington.”

Forbes.com is reporting that UnitedHealth is the first of many insurance companies that will be making cuts to their networks in the upcoming years as Medicare reimbursements continue to shrink and physicians are unwilling to take pay cuts. Aetna is also reported as warning of a massive decrease in its physician network due to shrinking Medicare reimbursements.

Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, says that the instability in the healthcare insurance industry now affects everyone involved. “Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers," Ignagni said in a press release. "Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace. If due to these changes fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase in the marketplace and there will be fewer choices for consumers."

Are these cuts the product of another broken promise made by President Barack Obama concerning the ACA? Obama promised that people who liked their doctor would be able to keep their doctor. But ultimately that will depend on whether their doctor is still available in their healthcare insurance network.

From 7 million to 12 million people have lost their original coverage from their insurance companies due to ACA regulations, according to ABC News.