- Cullman, Alabama


June 13, 2013

UnitedHealth's failure at Pentagon could risk future U.S. awards



Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, will hold a telephone conference call Thursday with Fort Carson health facility officials to discuss "unresolved issues and challenges caused by the transition" to UnitedHealth, Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said in a phone interview.

Bruce Jasurda, a UnitedHealth spokesman, said the company has conducted "extensive" training of its staff to ensure consistent processing. Patients have complained of delays as the contractor has struggled with a backlog in specialty-care referrals and authorizations for medical services.

"The queue of pending referrals and authorizations have been largely eliminated," Jasurda said in an email.

UnitedHealth said this week it has changed the leadership of its military and veterans unit, which oversees the contract. Lori McDougal, the former chief executive officer of that unit, has accepted another position with the company, according to Matt Stearns, a spokesman for the insurer.

Even so, physical therapists working with UnitedHealth through the military contract have seen referrals decline as much as 80 percent since the insurer assumed the contract, said Lorne MacDonald, who owns Falcon Physical Therapy in Colorado Springs.

His four clinics serving injured troops, military retirees and their dependents got 19 referrals last week, down from about 93 referrals the week before UnitedHealth took over the work, he said.

"I met with UnitedHealth and they told me they have a clean desk, and the backlog's been resolved. I said, 'Where did all the patients go, then?' " MacDonald said.

The Alpine Autism Center has never received a payment from UnitedHealth for its military work, said Tana Rice, the center's operations manager. There have also been delays in admitting new military children to the program, she said. The center may have to cut staff or restrict the number of military families that it serves because of the issues with UnitedHealth, she said.

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