Envision doubles down on marketing push to stay in UnitedHealthcare’s network

Doctor and nurses wheeling patient in gurney through hospital corridor
The physician staffing firm is launching a campaign aimed at employers and providers criticizing UnitedHealthcare for keeping it out-of-network. (Getty/Sam Edwards)

On the heels of a marketing blitz deflecting blame for surprise billing, Envision Healthcare has launched several more coordinated marketing campaigns to get back into UnitedHealthcare’s good graces.

A month after UnitedHealthcare informed (PDF) hundreds of hospitals that negotiations with the provider group were at a standstill, the physician staffing firm launched two new websites targeting large employers, alleging the insurer is “prioritizing profits over your employees” and warning of higher costs tied to unexpected bills.

“We care about keeping your employees in-network,” one website says. “Does United?”

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A second website, directed at providers, says Envision has been “negotiating in good faith” with UnitedHealthcare and is not seeking rate increases in 2019. The insurer contends Envision has asked for a rate 600% higher than Medicare.

RELATED: As UnitedHealth negotiations intensify, Envision targets surprise billing with new marketing blitz

Envision says it has signed agreements with three other “major carriers," but a spokesperson declined to identify the payers. The dispute with UnitedHealthcare dates back to April when the insurance giant first said it would drop the provider at the end of the year. The firm provides staffing for emergency departments, radiology, anesthesia and hospitalists.

“As physicians, our patients’ health and well-being come first,” Rebecca Parker, M.D., senior vice president at Envision Healthcare, said in a statement. “When payers limit their network of physicians and services, it places undue burden on patients and undermines the care we provide. This is what Envision is working so hard in trying to prevent.”

Envision launched a similar marketing blitz earlier this month seeking to shift the blame around surprise billing, an issue spotlighted by several high-profile media reports—including Kaiser Health News' "Bill of the Month" series—in which patients have been billed tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-network charges.

“Envision is already charging more than two times the average cost of other ER physicians in UnitedHealthcare’s network, and many of our customers tell us they do not want to pay those rates," UnitedHealthcare spokesperson Stephen Shivinsky said in a statement to FierceHealthcare. "We remain committed to working with Envision in finding a solution that will renew their participation in our network at rates that are affordable and predictable for the customers and members we serve."

RELATED: Investment firm KKR to acquire Envision Healthcare in $9.9B deal

EmCare, a subsidiary of Envision, has been a chief culprit of surprise billing, prompting Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to accuse EmCare of “gaming the system” to boost profits. Envision's new website claims that more than 90% of its business comes from treating in-network patients, although a 2017 study (PDF) showed that hospitals contracting with EmCare have an average out-of-network billing rate of 62%.

Envision, which was acquired by private equity firm KKR earlier this month, has a lot riding on the negotiations. Executives told Modern Healthcare that UnitedHealthcare’s contract accounts for nearly $1 billion—or 25%—of the company’s annual revenues.