A jury in Nevada has found UnitedHealth negligent for failing to properly oversee a doctor whose substandard medical practices led to patients being infected with hepatitis C. The nation's largest insurer must pay $24 million in damages as a result of the decision.
Focusing on a hepatitis C outbreak in 2008 stemming from gastroenterologist Dipak Desai's clinic, the plaintiffs claimed UnitedHealth's Health Plan of Nevada violated state law, which requires HMOs file yearly reports showing they reviewed the quality of health services their doctors and hospitals provide to members.
Plaintiffs' attorneys also claimed UnitedHealth knew of Desai's poor attitude toward quality and patient safety, but still contracted with him to perform colonoscopies. Desai allegedly rushed through procedures so he could see as many as 20 patients in three hours, Bloomberg reported.
What's more, the plaintiffs said, UnitedHealth received complaints about Desai's practices and still failed to properly monitor him. By contracting with Desai, UnitedHealth "consciously disregarded patient safety," attorney Robert Eglet said in closing arguments.
"The insurance companies are making hundreds of billions of dollars every year, and yet the public is not getting quality health care," Eglet told the Associated Press. "And doctors aren't being fairly paid, so they have to take on too many patients to make a living."
In response to the verdict, UnitedHealth said it was "disappointed, but not surprised." UnitedHealth spokesman Tyler Mason said the decision "sets a dangerous precedent" because it makes insurers responsible for individual doctors' actions, reported The Wall Street Journal.
UnitedHealth attorneys argued in court that Desai was credentialed at several Nevada hospitals when it hired him, which was part of the company's vetting process.