Judge steps down from UnitedHealth case over 'immoral' denial of cancer treatment

A federal judge recused himself from a class-action case against UnitedHealthcare because the health insurer denied coverage of radiation treatment that could have treated his own cancer, according to BenefitsPRO.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, who survived prostate cancer, recused himself from Richard Cole v. United Healthcare Insurance Co. in the Southern District of Florida April 29. The plaintiff, Mr. Cole, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2018. UnitedHealthcare refused to cover proton beam radiation therapy to treat his tumors, spurring Mr. Cole to file a putative class-action complaint against UnitedHealthcare on April 3.

In his order of recusal, Mr. Scola, who ultimately treated his cancer with surgery, said he could not rule on the case "fairly and impartially" due to the life-saving option proton radiation gave him. He also noted that UnitedHealthcare initially denied his friend's six-figure medical bills for proton therapy, and only reimbursed him $150,000 after being threatened with litigation, according to BenefitsPRO.

"To deny a patient this treatment, if it is available, is immoral and barbaric," Mr. Scola wrote.

In an April 29 statement to BenefitsPRO, UnitedHealthcare spokesperson Maria Gordon Shydlo said the insurer "bases its medical policies and coverage decisions — including for proton beam therapy — on the prevailing published clinical and scientific evidence."

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