UnitedHealthcare data fuels, frames Yale surprise billing study

UnitedHealthcare played a pivotal role in Yale's renowned study on surprise billing, which played a crucial role in industrywide and federal reform as it pointed to both the prevalence of surprise billing and the fiscal burden on patients. 

An Aug. 10 report from The Intercept said that while UnitedHealthcare was not named in the study because of contract stipulations, the researchers had two years of communication with the insurer and analyzed 2 million of its insurance claims.

Emails detailing the data-sharing agreement surfaced after a lawsuit against UnitedHealthcare made them public. 

The report claimed that while UnitedHealthcare did not sway the conclusions of the paper — which have been replicated in similar studies and a later follow-up paper — it did affect how the study framed private hospital staffing companies in a negative light. 

In a statement to The Intercept, UnitedHealthcare said the study was an independent one in "which we had no editorial control. UnitedHealth Group routinely makes its data available to clinical, economic, and other academic researchers without editorial control because the truth matters," according to a company spokesperson. 

The Intercept reports that while UnitedHealthcare's practices of anonymity and data-sharing are not uncommon, they do butt heads with research ethics. Researchers often give in to demands because of the lack of public data within healthcare economics. 

The effects of the 2016 study led to Congress banning surprise billing through the No Surprises Act.

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