HHS pressures UnitedHealth, payers on financial support for providers as cyberattack disruption continues

The federal government is pressing UnitedHealth Group and other payers to provide financial relief to providers as they continue to feel the financial disruption caused by the Change Healthcare cyberattack.

In a letter to the industry posted on Saturday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) wrote that the incident "has impacted payments to hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, and other health care providers across the country."

HHS said it has taken steps to make it easier for providers to access advance payments and other supports and is urging commercial payers to follow its lead.

"In a situation such as this, the government and private sector must work together to help providers make payroll and deliver timely care to the American people," the feds said. "The Biden-Harris Administration has taken action by removing challenges for health care providers and addressing this cyberattack head on."

"Now, we are asking private sector leaders across the health care industry—especially other payers—to meet the moment," HHS added.

The letter includes recommendations for UHG specifically and the payer industry more broadly. HHS is calling on UnitedHealth to "take responsibility to ensure no provider is compromised by their cash flow challenges" that result from the cyberattack.

The insurer should take steps to make sure to expedite payments to any providers receiving advanced funding from UnitedHealthcare, as well as ensure that they're able to readily access other services provided by UHG, as providers have expressed concern about indemnification and arbitration, according to the letter.

Initiatives that aim to serve as a "financial backstop" during the disruption should put a focus on lower-margin and underresourced providers, HHS said.

In addition, the agency said that UHG should offer more frequent and transparent communications with the healthcare community at large as well as state Medicaid agencies. UnitedHealth should offer Medicaid programs a list of impacted providers within their states.

Other payers should follow this model, HHS said. They should make interim payments to providers, particularly to those in Medicaid, and larger payers in particular are positioned well to offer this advanced funding.

Additional barriers that should be eased in the interim include prior authorization and other utilization management and electronic data interchange requirements.

After last week dinging the feds for a lackluster response, provider groups applauded HHS for taking additional action and putting pressure on health plans to ease the pain.

"We particularly appreciate the federal government’s call on UnitedHealth Group for increased transparency about this incident and urging the company to step up to take needed actions to provide meaningful payments to hospitals, physicians and other providers so that they can continue timely care for patients," said Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association. "It’s critical that all payers help providers during this incident to ensure patient care is not compromised."

Susan Dentzer, president of America's Physician Groups, said that more advanced payments and financial support will "go a long way" to address the challenges facing providers.

“We are thankful that CMS and others in the Biden administration heard our concerns and request for action, and we also appreciate that members of Congress recognized the seriousness of the situation and communicated their concerns as well," she said. "In addition, we thank UnitedHealth Group/Optum for recognizing the need to beef up its financial assistance to providers and the steps that the corporation has taken in that direction."