business news in context, analysis with attitude

There was a story yesterday that ordinarily might not have made MNB, except that the company involved was written up here for other reasons just a few weeks ago.

The company is UnitedHealth Group, which yesterday was slammed by a federal judge in Northern California who ruled that one of its units “had created internal policies aimed at effectively discriminating against patients with mental health and substance abuse disorders to save money,” policies that “violated its fiduciary duty under federal law.”

U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero wrote that UnitedHealth’s guidelines were “unreasonable and an abuse of discretion” and had been “‘infected’ by financial incentives meant to restrict access to care.” The policies, he wrote, put an “excessive emphasis on addressing acute symptoms and stabilizing crises while ignoring the effective treatment of members’ underlying conditions.”

This was interesting because it was little more than a week ago that UnitedHealth lost another case - its attempt to stop one of its former executives from going to work for the new health care venture that has been launched by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase.

The New York Times wrote at the time that “the case against the nascent venture has highlighted the anxiety of established insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers over newcomers to their territory. From start-ups to giant technology firms, the new rivals threaten to unseat companies, like UnitedHealth, that have traditionally dominated these markets. Amazon, which has made tentative forays into the pharmacy business, has emerged as a particularly worrisome competitor.”
KC's View:
I’m sure that these are different units of United Health, but I did find this to be a fascinating coincidence … on the one hand, it doesn’t want one of its former executives sharing trade secrets with a potentially disruptive competitor, and then it ends up that one of those trade secrets was putting financial concerns ahead of patient/customer care.


Now, I’m sure that there are a lot of companies out there that sacrifice patients because of financial concerns. But I also would hope that whatever Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, they figure out a way never to accused of such an attitude.