United-Healthcare-Has-Betrayed-Our-Trust 

United Healthcare Has Betrayed Our Trust 

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6 mins read

As a South Carolina Senator and Senior Pastor of a non-denominational church here in Columbia, the health and well-being of every community member – our families, friends, and neighbors – are important to me.  We all know that a key ingredient to a healthy and flourishing community is reliable and affordable access to healthcare.

I believe this unimpeded access to healthcare is a fundamental human right that those of us entrusted to lead our state, whether in the General Assembly, from the pulpit, or while doing business, have an obligation to protect and expand.  To meet this obligation, we partner with and place great trust in the many public and private organizations and professionals that comprise our healthcare system – including our hospitals, doctors, nurses, counselors, public health agencies, health insurers, and many others.

Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that UnitedHealthcare, one of the health insurance companies we have granted the privilege of providing health coverage to the citizens of South Carolina, has betrayed that trust by denying access to care and disregarding the health and welfare of some of our most sick and vulnerable citizens.

SC. State Senator Darrell Jackson

UnitedHealthcare is part of the multinational corporate conglomerate United Health Group, which last year took in profits of more than $32 billion – more than $7 billion in the last quarter of 2023 alone.  Despite these record profits, UnitedHealthcare refused to enter a contract with Prisma Health for the increased cost of providing care to UnitedHealthcare’s members in South Carolina.

Rather than see a minuscule reduction in its massive profits, UnitedHealthcare removed Prisma Health from its network, including the Prisma Health hospitals and clinics that serve some of the most neglected communities in our state. This means that despite paying premiums to UnitedHealthcare for health insurance coverage each month, UnitedHealthcare members will, in most cases, be able to access care from Prisma Health only by paying much more out of their own pockets.  Of course, this is not affordable for most of us – especially when we or our employers are already paying for insurance coverage, which we trusted would be there for us in our time of need.

I have spoken with the leaders of Prisma Health about this situation, and they informed me that they have been able to reach agreements with all other major insurers who do business in our state. UnitedHealthcare is the lone operator, the one exception.  It appears UnitedHealthcare has decided to deny its members access to the care they need, putting its record corporate profits ahead of patients and our communities.

Unfortunately, this betrayal of our trust goes even further. Word has reached my desk that UnitedHealthcare has also been ignoring requests for life-sustaining continuation of care benefits from some of its members who are being treated in prison for serious diseases and conditions. These benefits would allow patients to continue seeing their Prisma Health providers on an in-network basis without disruption and without incurring unexpected medical expenses. Granting these benefits is not simply the right thing to do. It is required by law.  We in the General Assembly passed legislation in 2010 requiring that all health insurance companies that issue policies in our state provide these “continuum of care” benefits to all covered persons with serious medical conditions where failure to continue the current course of treatment with their current provider would seriously jeopardize the patient’s health.

Shockingly, despite these legal obligations, I am informed that UnitedHealthcare has failed to respond in a timely manner to requests for these critical benefits from patients in active treatment for cancer and midterm pregnancy conditions we specifically called out in the law as qualifying for these benefits. Fortunately, Prisma Health is doing the right thing by putting these patients first and treating them regardless of their ability to pay.   

I have also become aware that UnitedHealthcare recently notified pediatricians in our communities that they should not refer sick and injured children to specialists at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital even though these hospitals are the only ones in the Midlands and Upstate capable of providing the care they need.  Again, despite these callous actions by UnitedHealthcare, Prisma Health is putting these patients first and treating them regardless of their ability to pay.

While we want private companies doing business in our state to be profitable and to succeed, they cannot do so on the backs of our most sick and vulnerable residents. I call on UnitedHealthcare to fix its business practices, put patients ahead of profits, and earn back the trust of our citizens by expanding access to care and honoring their obligations to their customers and our communities.

Darrell Jackson is a South Carolina Senator representing Senate District 21.

The MinorityEye is a news and information aggregator that curates the voices, thoughts and perspectives of minority writers, bloggers, authors, reporters, columnists, pundits, consultants and thought leaders as well as those who write about minorities and issues that impact people and communities of color.

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