- Dec 12, 2018
A senior economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers, whose nomination to a post overseeing health insurance floundered in the wake of revelations of his financial ties to UnitedHealth Group, is now playing a key role overseeing a $30 billion recovery program being administered by UnitedHealth.
The choice of UnitedHealth, a leading health insurer, to serve as a conduit in funneling billions of dollars to hospitals and other providers, surprised many in health care, including employees at the Department of Health and Human Services who had assumed that HHS would administer the program itself. Though UnitedHealth says it will make no profit off of the deal, its role in handing out billions of federal dollars to hospitals could boost its relationships with the White House and the public during a tumultuous year and possibly provide it with valuable health care data, experts say.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this. The U.S. government pays hospitals all the time. Why would they need to pay a third party -- a for-profit insurer?” said Wendell Potter, a former insurance company employee turned industry critic.
Stephen Parente, an economist at the Council of Economic Advisers, is one of the Trump administration officials advising the program, according to three people familiar with his work. One HHS official described Parente as one of three key decision-makers in determining how the CARES Act recovery money is allocated to health care providers across the country.
After the White House withdrew Parente’s nomination in the face of congressional concerns about his relationships with the healthcare industry -- and UnitedHealth in particular – and omissions about finances that Parente had made on his financial disclosure form, the president appointed him to his current post, which does not require confirmation.
There are lingering questions about why UnitedHealth was selected to distribute the $30 billion in funds.
As the country’s largest health care insurer, UnitedHealth and one of its subsidiaries, Optum, have the cash and the financial infrastructure to quickly move $30 billion to hospitals, proponents of the arrangement say.
Trump team’s use of big insurer to dispense recovery funds comes under scrutiny
A White House economist with close ties to UnitedHealth is helping oversee a program administered by the firm.