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UnitedHealth probed over possible racial bias in care algorithm

Oct. 27, 2019 7:36 PM ETUNHBy: Douglas W. House, SA News Editor21 Comments
  • New York's insurance regulator has launched an investigation into a UnitedHealth Group algorithm that a study, just published in the journal Science, found prioritized care for white patients over sicker black patients.
  • Specifically, the algorithm, sold by its Optum unit, ranked white patients with fewer chronic diseases and healthier vital signs the same as black patients with less robust signs. Hospitals and insurers use the tool to identify diabetes and other chronic disease patients who need extra assistance such as home care and help with medicine management and coordinating doctor visits.
  • On Friday, the state's Department of Financial Services sent a letter to CEO David Wichmann requesting that it stop using the algorithm or show that it is not racially discriminatory.
  • A company spokesperson said the algorithm is only one part of a much broader tool it offers to help analyze patients' health needs.

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Comments (21)

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According to an article in FierceHealthcare, the algorithm used healthcare costs as a proxy for general health.

Those without access to healthcare had lower costs and therefore appeared healthy, even though this may not be the case. In effect, lower historical spending may have reduced their likelihood of being selected for further clinical care.

The claim of racial discrimination seems misplaced given the flaw is in using prior healthcare spending as an indicator of health.

Single payer healthcare. Everyone gets exactly the same. Now NY liberal government wants to criticize it if it is true?
jagomendy profile picture
If it is true that the algorithms “ranked white patients with fewer chronic diseases and healthier vital signs the same as black patients with less robust signs,” and gives healthier white patients the same treatment benefit as sicker black patients [i.e. better treatment for whites than blacks], shouldn’t something be done about it by the regulators? What am I missing?
Generally such algorithms would theoretically be considered "secret sauce" and not available for public display. This has me curious, though, if the algorithm specifically gave "white" patients special "unhealthy credits" to even the playing field with blacks who started off with more credits.

Was there a "white multiplier" spreadsheet cell or if not, what other factors that happened to be more consistent with "white" patients even the playing field?

Either this is explicitly racist input, or there is a reality that the accusers are hiding because it flies in the face of their accusations of racism. The burden of proof is on the accusers to provide but something tells me they will not quickly provide it.
nicholas davout profile picture
Thank God I left NY back when the fools actually welcomed that pos hillary when she moved into Westchester county. Handwriting was on the wall, NY was being destroyed by the criminally insane known as the democratic party.
I am just surprised that health care already has algos to help direct care. Actually a good thing that needs to to be perfected. The potential is far greater than what this article is about. Big data and health is a game changer.
just so you know. UNH through its Optum wing is implementing AI in a very big way. these are just starting days for Optum and Optum Rx. this thing is gonna ride huge once the presidential election is over.
john.fAIrplay profile picture
So the government forces health systems to collect information on race and ethnicity, and fines them if they don't or if it's compromised, but if it's used to help direct care, they also get fined. If they hadn't been forced to include this information in anyone's file, no health system's algorithm would be able to use it to direct care.
Oh the race card
Corporate greed is disgusting
Its not corporate greed. Its a population of folks looking to be offended when everything in society in 2019 is tilted to benefit them.

If this were 1965 there might be something to this...
Clair Zirnhelt profile picture
Government greed is right there alongside.
Government greed for power and money is worse. They can back up their greed with an armed police force and imprisonment for those that don't feed it to their satisfaction.
The state is money hungry, it always targets the deep pocket companies.
Fine them billions and billions dollars by using a couple of bias attorneys, mission accomplished.
Exactly, extortion. Same as the EU is doing with American Tech companies.
Uh oh another money grab coming soon to a state near you!!
27 Oct. 2019
hopefully a chance to buy the dip 😁
Hubby and I think this this is a very stupid article! We'll see if this news affects the stock adversely during tomorrow's trading! Long UNH! :-)
I will hope for it go down as much as possible to buy more of it...
SlickGamble profile picture
Nothing-burger. Just another instance the professionally offended trying to get paid.
Why are blacks people so unhealthy according to this article?
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