United panned in survey of hospital execs

Hospital leaders call the company the most difficult to deal with, but United says the survey is questionable.

By Emily Berry — Posted April 7, 2008

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A survey shows hospital executives nationwide have some negative opinions of health plans, but no health plan is more roundly disliked than UnitedHealthcare.

The survey, released in March by California-based Davies Public Affairs, finds 91% of hospital executives have a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion of United. The company is the most ubiquitous -- it's contracted with 96% of the hospitals represented in the survey -- but its negative rating is nearly twice the 47% of Cigna, which was represented in 93% of the surveyed hospitals.

United also was No. 1 -- at 64% -- in being rated the most difficult company with which to negotiate. United was rated worst in timeliness of payment, reimbursement rates, honesty and candor in negotiations, denial of claims, dealings with hospitals and dealings with physicians.

"I think what the survey results show very clearly is that the reason United was rated very poorly was because they behave in a way that deserves to be rated poorly," said Brandon Edwards, who manages Davies' health care segment.

United spokesman Tyler Mason said the Davies firm used questionable methods in collecting its data, and said the survey appeared to be motivated to single out United specifically. Davies' client list includes hospitals. This "is a poorly disguised PR stunt conducted by a PR firm with a questionable reputation," Mason said in an e-mailed statement.

But Edwards said his company financed the survey as a promotional tool to attract clients, not to single out United or any company.

Negative opinions for other plans ranged from 35% for Coventry to 48% for WellPoint. Aetna, at 57% somewhat or very favorable, was the only plan above 50% in that category.

According to Davies, replies came from 113 respondents who said they negotiated contracts for hospitals. They were from 44 states and Washington, D.C., representing 500 hospitals. The survey was conducted online between Jan. 22 and Feb. 18, and was released March 7.

The survey was developed by the Washington-based research firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates.

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Health plan reputation

Davies Public Affairs asked hospital executives for their opinions on health plans and found UnitedHealthcare to be the least favored. Nearly all those surveyed, 96%, had dealings with United; 93% had dealings with Cigna; 87% with Aetna; 76% with Coventry; 69% with state/regional BlueCross BlueShield plans; and 63% with WellPoint/Anthem. Percentages don't add up to 100 because not all respondents were familiar with all plans.

Plan Somewhat or very unfavorable Somewhat or very favorable
UnitedHealthcare 91% 9%
WellPoint/Anthem 48% 20%
Cigna 47% 44%
State/regional BCBS* 38% 46%
Aetna 37% 57%
Coventry 35% 38%
Category Respondents rating United worst Those rating United best
Contract negotiations 64% 4%
Fixing claims 60% 8%
Processing/paying claims 59% 4%
Honesty and candor 58% 5%
Timeliness/responsiveness 51% 4%

*Phrased to distinguish from WellPoint-owned Blues plans

Source: Davies Public Affairs, 2008 National Payer Survey, 113 hospital executive respondents representing more than 500 hosptials nationwide

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