US insurers to expedite payments to healthcare providers after hack

FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of the UnitedHealth Group appears on the side of one of their office buildings in Santa Ana, California

By Ahmed Aboulenein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Health insurers told the U.S. government they would accelerate payments to some healthcare providers indirectly affected by a cyberattack on UnitedHealth Group's technology unit Change Healthcare, senior U.S. health officials said on Monday.

Change Healthcare, which was hit by a cyberattack on Feb. 21, processes about 50% of medical insurance claims in the United States, working with 900,000 physicians, 33,000 pharmacies, 5,500 hospitals and 600 laboratories.

The cyberattack disrupted insurance transactions and caused an outage in claims submissions and provider payments. Speeding up payment processing will alleviate cash flow problems for providers.

Insurers committed at a meeting with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials on Monday to expedite payments to providers in the government's Medicare and Medicaid programs, HHS officials said.

"That's certainly what we've been pressing them to do," one senior official told reporters on a call. Medicare covers people above 65 and the disabled, and Medicaid is a federal-state health program for low income people.

The official did not identify the insurers that made the commitment. A second official said insurance plans committed to providing loans to Medicaid providers and helping them switch to other clearing houses, a second official said.

"Claims are starting to flow and we have seen significant improvement between last week and this week, but we have a last mile to go," the second official said.

The officials did not provide details on any potential moves by companies for services to patients covered by private insurance.

Earlier on Monday, UnitedHealth said it had advanced payments of over $2 billion so far to provide assistance to healthcare providers affected by the hack.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)