Thousands of patients in Tennessee won’t be able to see their Doctors after United Healthcare makes a change in their Medicare plans.
Thousands of patients in #Tennessee won’t be able to see their Doctors after United Healthcare makes a change in their Medicare plans.
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ORIGINAL STORY BY WATE CBS LOCAL By JILL MCNEAL 6 News Anchor/Reporter
KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Thousands of patients in Tennessee won’t be able to see their doctors after United Healthcare makes a change in their Medicare plans. A concerned relative contacted 6 News this week worried her mother’s health would suffer. And we soon found out, she is not alone.
It turns out this is happening all over the country. About 600 doctors in Tennessee alone are finding out that they’re being cut this year from the United Healthcare Medicare network. With no option to change insurance companies until 2015, that leaves all those patients without a doctor they know and trust for the rest of this year.
Dr. Dean Mire is a family practice doctor who specializes in geriatrics. That means he has a lot of Medicare patients. Dr. Mire learned last month that more than 100 of them with United Healthcare plans will no longer be able to see him after Sept. 1.
“Oh, I was shocked. I had no clue that it was coming,” Dr. Mire said.
United Healthcare wouldn’t tell him why he was being dropped.
“Of course I appealed and I told them that I would be willing to do anything they asked to stay on plan because I was worried about the patients. They came back with a letter that said they didn’t want to talk about it. They had decided that they were going to terminate us.
We reached out to some of Dr. Mire’s patients, hoping to speak with a few of them. More than 25 showed up.
“Dr. Mire’s had my entire family. I don’t know what to do. As far as to look for another doctor, no. I’d just as soon not see one,” said Jenny Griggs.
Like most of the patients, Griggs has been with Dr. Mire since he started his practice 30 years ago and she has numerous health problems. Most of the letters the patients got from United Healthcare last week recommend a new primary care doctor. Griggs says hers turned out to be a neurologist, not primary care.
Billie and Deaderick and her husband ministered to the sick and dying for 23 years as missionaries in Brazil.
“We were in a third world country there. Now we’re in a country where we feel the same way they did. We have no freedom. We can’t choose our doctor,” she said.
Other patients say their recommended doctors aren’t taking new patients or they can’t get an appointment for three months.
“What are my options? I don’t have any. Where do I go?” asked patient Yvonne Patterson.
It’s not just primary care doctors being dropped. Some local specialists are getting the ax as well, including Mildred Bohanan’s gastrointestinal doctor.
When asked what she thought about the changes by United Healthcare, Mildred said, “I think it’s dirty, I really do.”
We reached out to United Healthcare for some answers. It seems they want to get as many of their Medicare patients as possible seeing the same doctors. They say that will improve everyone’s care and lower costs.
“We are trying to work closely and collaboratively with a more focused group of health care providers to have the most positive impact on our members’ care. While these changes are aimed at improving the member experience, we understand that any plan changes can be unsettling. We regret any inconvenience our members may experience, and are working to make their transition to a new physician as smooth as possible,” United Healthcare said in a statement.
Industry experts tell us that while this practice of dropping doctors is not new, the United Healthcare changes are some of the most widespread and they expect other companies to follow suit.
United Healthcare also answered some “frequently asked questions” as part of its statement:
“Q. Why is UnitedHealthcare making changes to its physician network?
“A. Many plans, including UnitedHealthcare, are making changes to their networks to improve health care coverage for their members. We believe that a more focused network will improve our ability to collaborate closely with physicians. This will encourage better health care outcomes for our members by giving them a choice of physicians more focused on their specific needs. For our Medicare Advantage members, this will also encourage lower costs. Our intent is to work with physicians by providing data and in some instances incentives to further assist in keeping members healthy, preventing sickness and reducing unnecessary services and trips to the ER.
“Q. Why is UnitedHealthcare making these changes now, when members can’t switch to a new plan?
“A. We feel these changes will have a positive effect on the overall quality of our health plan and our member experience. The timing of these changes was driven by our desire to make these improvements as quickly as possible and to ensure beneficiaries have a clear understanding of our physician network before open enrollment in the fall. We understand the concern this may cause our members, and we are prepared to help them make any necessary transition and, most importantly, prevent any disruption to necessary care they are receiving from their doctor.”