United's New Approach: Good PR or Better Patient Care?

Christine Wiebe


May 22, 2000

In This Article


Skepticism lingers among physicians about UnitedHealthcare's much-heralded medical management program. However, some credit the health plan with helping to restore the traditional physician-patient relationship.

When UnitedHealthcare announced last fall that it was unveiling a program that represented "a new era in modern health care," many in the industry dismissed it as a public relations ploy. In fact, other insurers complained that United was getting credit for something they all were doing with considerably fewer fanfare.

United officials boasted that the company was dramatically reshaping its approach to medical management, dropping pre-authorization requirements for physicians and implementing quality measures that would bridge existing gaps in patient care.

Now, half a year later, skepticism lingers about United's program, especially in certain markets where physicians say they have seen little change. National consumer groups that applauded United's plans are still waiting to see any impact.

However, some physicians and analysts credit United with taking a bold step toward restoring the traditional physician-patient relationship, and with shifting its emphasis toward quality improvement and away from "micro-managing" providers.

"At first, I was almost unbelieving that they would do this," said Pink Folmar, MD, president of the Medical Society of the State of Alabama. As an internist, he welcomes United's new policy allowing for procedures such as colon exams to be performed without pre-certification, he said. "I wish other HMOs would follow their lead."

And recently, the Medical Society of New Jersey ranked United ahead of other HMOs in that state, praising the health plan for reducing hassles and for partnering with physicians. That group has been critical of United in the past, and physician leaders have had ongoing meetings with plan officials to work out their differences.