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UnitedHealth dropping doctors by the thousands

Nov. 16, 2013 at 10:15 AM

MINNETONKA, Minn., Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Financial pressures from the U.S. government are pushing UnitedHealth Group to drop thousands of doctors, the firm's president said.

"That's what's driving our actions. It's no secret that we are under substantial funding pressure from the federal government," said President Austin Pittman.

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that UnitedHealth earned profits of $1.57 billion in the third quarter, although the company's Chief Executive Officer Stephen Hemsley has warned that the Affordable Care Act is expected to include cuts to Medicare Payments.

UnitedHealth is the country's largest private management firm for Medicare Advantage plans, which covers both hospital and doctor expenses and includes options for prescription drug bills and preventative care, like membership to a gym, the Journal said.

UnitedHealth said it is managing its business and that it has 350,000 doctors in its network.

But cutting doctors from the plan still represents a potential crisis for patients. "Fewer practitioners mean longer waits, longer drives, less convenience," said ophthalmologist Steven Thornquist of Trumbull, Conn.

"Patients battling cancer should be focused on their treatment, not on finding another doctor," said gynecological oncologist Johnathan Lancaster at the cancer center Moffitt, where 200 doctors were dropped from the plan.

The Connecticut State Medical Society estimated 2,200 doctors were cut in Connecticut alone.

"Instead of using a scalpel, United is using a chain saw," said the president of the society Michael Saffir, who is also a rehabilitation specialist.

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