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Pentagon scolds UnitedHealth over Tricare handling

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The Pentagon this week had pointed words for UnitedHealth Group Inc., because military families have been experiencing long delays getting medical-care referrals from the company, Bloomberg News reports.

The backlogs occurred almost as soon as Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth took over a contract, valued as much as $20.5 billion, from TriWest Healthcare Alliance Corp., Bloomberg reports.

UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest insurer, took responsibility on April 1 for the western region of the military’s health-care system, known as Tricare.

UnitedHealth’s “failure to meet contractor requirements” has prevented a large number of beneficiaries in one Tricare health plan from getting prompt access to specialty care, Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in a memo yesterday to other military leaders, Bloomberg reports.

The delays are due to UnitedHealth receiving requests for referrals and care authorizations that “far exceeded the norms," largely because people are asking the company whether previously authorized referrals were still valid, said Bruce Jasurda, a spokesman for the company. That resulted in a flood of duplicate referrals in the system, he said.

The company “understands the issues we need to improve on, and we are taking aggressive action,” he said.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. posted a net income of $1.19 billion in the first-quarter, down 14 percent from $1.39 billion a year ago, the Associated Press reported. Helped by membership growth fueled by the Tricare acquisition, revenue climbed 11 percent to $30.34 billion in the first three months of 2013.

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