Major Insurers Running Billions of Dollars Behind on Payments to Hospitals and Doctors

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Patients are caught in the middle as insurers clamp down on paying for treatments or force prior authorizations for care.
Anthem Blue Cross, the country's second-biggest health insurance company, is behind on billions of dollars in payments owed to hospitals and doctors because of onerous new reimbursement rules, computer problems and mishandled claims, say hospital officials in multiple states.

Anthem, like other big insurers, is using the covid-19 crisis as cover to institute "egregious" policies that harm patients and pinch hospital finances, said Molly Smith, group vice president at the American Hospital Association. "There's this sense of 'Everyone's distracted. We can get this through,'" she said.

Hospitals are also dealing with a spike in retroactive claims denials by UnitedHealthcare, the biggest health insurer, for emergency department care, AHA says.

Disputes between insurers and hospitals are nothing new. But this fight sticks more patients in the middle, worried they'll have to pay unresolved claims. Hospitals say it is hurting their finances as many cope with covid surges — even after the industry has received tens of billions of dollars in emergency assistance from the federal government.

"We recognize there have been some challenges" to prompt payments caused by claims-processing changes and "a new set of dynamics" amid the pandemic, Anthem spokesperson Colin Manning said in an email. "We apologize for any delays or inconvenience this may have caused."

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Virginia law requires insurers to pay claims within 40 days. In a Sept. 24 letter to state insurance regulators, VCU Health, a system that operates a large teaching hospital in Richmond associated with Virginia Commonwealth University, said Anthem owes it $385 million. More than 40% of the claims are more than 90 days old, VCU said.

For all Virginia hospitals, Anthem's late, unpaid claims amount to "hundreds of millions of dollars," the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association said in a June 23 letter to state regulators.

Nationwide, the payment…
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