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It’s 2021: Do you know where your personal data is?

HIT Infrastructure’s March 12 story paints an unsettling picture of how United’s Change Healthcare will further expand Optum’s access to patient data.

Earlier this year, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum subsidiary bought itself a present: the data analytics firm Change Healthcare, which is a massive administrative network that processes claims and pharmacy requests for physicians and pharmacies across the country. We’ve previously voiced concern about how this 13 billion dollar deal could negatively impact the industry, since it grants United access to a significant store of physicians’ financial and clinical data.

Now, Change is poised to deliver even more data to Optum. Change and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are co-launching a data science-as-a-service offering. This service is meant to analyze the effectiveness of interventions and therapies on vulnerable groups of people using both health data and social determinations of health information (think, a person’s access to transportation, food and housing information, and the like).

If only it were that simple. There were already signs that Optum’s growing influence over the healthcare industry leaves needy patients out in the cold. What are we to think now that Optum is expanding its influence even further and using new stores of data beyond the clinical setting? Does anyone think it’s a good idea for Optum (and its mothership, United), with its history of exploitative practices, to manage far-ranging data sets that will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of care plans for vulnerable patients?

It’s hard for us to believe that United truly has vulnerable patients’ best interests at heart given the insurer is being accused of fleecing Medicaid and pushing safety net hospitals out of network. Both of these entities, of course, care for these vulnerable patients. If United is so concerned about caring for vulnerable populations’ health, you’d think they’d stop cutting off their access to healthcare to begin with.

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