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The “insurer” will see you now

UnitedHealthcare’s profits seem to correlate with how much control they have over the industry, and according to a July 16 article in Axios, it’s more than we previously thought.

The stoics have a phrase that goes, “We cannot control what happens, but we can control how we respond.” It looks like UnitedHealthcare found a way to benefit on both sides of that statement.

A recent Axios article reported that the insurer is set to make more money because it now owns a bigger piece of the healthcare system pie, i.e., providers, specialty pharmacies and more. Makes sense, given that more industry control tends to ladder up to higher profits.

Not shocking. What is shocking, though, is a new phrase we learned, courtesy of United. The term is “intercompany eliminations.” Basically, this is when money is transferred from one part of the company to another. It’s something that United doesn’t record as a transaction of revenue because it’s essentially paying itself. (Feeling a little icky inside, too?)

We’re imagining United as playing a game of volleyball; but rather than playing an opponent, it’s galivanting from one side of the net to the other, volleying the ball straight back into its own hand. To give an example within healthcare, think of a United Medicare Advantage patient filling a prescription through Optum’s specialty pharmacy, also owned by United.

It might be smart business – but to us, it’s also kind of incestuous. We wonder how confident United members feel in their quality of care, knowing their doctors and pharmacists report back to the company paying the bills.

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