The nation’s largest health insurance company pressured its medical staff to cut off payments for seriously ill patients in lockstep with a computer algorithm’s calculations, denying rehabilitation care for older and disabled Americans as profits soared, a STAT investigation has found.
UnitedHealth Group has repeatedly said its algorithm, which predicts how long patients will need to stay in rehab, is merely a guidepost for their recoveries. But inside the company, managers delivered a much different message: that the algorithm was to be followed precisely so payment could be cut off by the date it predicted.
Internal documents show that a UnitedHealth subsidiary called NaviHealth set a target for 2023 to keep rehab stays of patients in Medicare Advantage plans within 1% of the days projected by the algorithm. Former employees said missing the target for patients under their watch meant exposing themselves to discipline, including possible termination, regardless of whether the additional days were justified under Medicare coverage rules.