Two whistleblower complaints allege that UnitedHealth has had a practice of asking the government to reimburse it for underpayments, but did not report claims for which it had received too much money.
This article first appeared March 28, 2017 on Kaiser Health News.
By Fred Schulte
The Justice Department has joined a California whistleblower's lawsuit that accuses insurance giant UnitedHealth Group of fraud in its popular Medicare Advantage health plans.
Justice officials filed legal papers to intervene in the suit, first brought by whistleblower James Swoben in 2009, on Friday in federal court in Los Angeles. On Monday, they sought a court order to combine Swoben's case with that of another whistleblower.
Swoben has accused the insurer of "gaming" the Medicare Advantage payment system by "making patients look sicker than they are," said his attorney, William K. Hanagami. Hanagami said the combined cases could prove to be among the "larger frauds" ever against Medicare, with damages that he speculates could top $1 billion.
UnitedHealth spokesman Matt Burns denied any wrongdoing by the company. "We are honored to serve millions of seniors through Medicare Advantage, proud of the access to quality health care we provided, and confident we complied with program rules," he wrote in an email.
Burns also said that "litigating against Medicare Advantage plans to create new rules through the courts will not fix widely acknowledged government policy shortcomings or help Medicare Advantage members and is wrong."
Medicare Advantage is a popular alternative to traditional Medicare. The privately run health plans have enrolled more than 18 million elderly and people with disabilities — about a third of those eligible for Medicare — at a cost to taxpayers of more than $150 billion a year.
Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.