The Seismic Shift in U.S. Health Care: Understanding the Challenges and Taking Action

Ben H.

Hatched by Ben H.

Oct 05, 2023

3 min read


The Seismic Shift in U.S. Health Care: Understanding the Challenges and Taking Action


The landscape of the U.S. health care system has undergone a seismic shift in recent years, presenting significant hurdles for providers. This shift has resulted in payors benefiting from what is known as the "flywheel effect," while hospitals and other providers face worsening problems. In order to navigate this complex terrain, it is crucial to understand the strategic and operational moves made by payors and take proactive steps to protect our interests. In this article, we will explore the changes in the health care system, the impact on providers, and three actionable advice to thrive in this new environment.

The Changing Face of Health Care:

In the "good old days" before 2008, commercial insurance was full-risk, with payors bearing the burden of increases in costs. This protected patients from high out-of-pocket expenses. However, in the last 15-20 years, everything has changed. UnitedHealth Group serves as a prime example of this shift, leveraging its scaled assets to lock in margins. By combining its health care services division (Optum) with its medical spend/medical loss ratios (UnitedHealth Networks), UnitedHealth Group has created a new entity that can pay its own providers above market rates while starving other providers with low rates. This allows them to acquire struggling practices and maintain profitability while staying within federal caps.

The Flywheel Effect:

UnitedHealth's success in this new model has created a flywheel effect in its business operations. The company's enrollment in government programs like Medicaid and Medicare Advantage has grown exponentially, driving up revenues. Optum, the division responsible for physician practices and outpatient facilities, has seen a staggering 25% increase in revenues. This growth has enabled UnitedHealth to avoid a significant hike in its overall medical loss ratio. This flywheel effect is a good problem for UnitedHealth but a worsening problem for hospitals and other providers who struggle to compete.

The Labyrinth of Insurance Denials:

On the other side of the coin, patients face a mind-boggling labyrinth when it comes to appealing insurance denials. The U.S. has multiple types of insurance, each with its own appeals process. The lack of a standardized standard across all insurers has created confusion and frustration for patients. Additionally, government insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid have their own unique appeals processes, further complicating matters. It is clear that there is a need for simplification and streamlining of the appeals process to ensure patients receive the care they need.

Taking Action in the Changing Landscape:

In the face of these challenges, providers must take proactive steps to protect their interests and thrive in this new environment. Here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Understand Your Insurance: It is crucial for individuals to know exactly what kind of insurance they have. This includes understanding whether they are covered under a self-funded plan through their employer or a government program like Medicare or Medicaid. By understanding their coverage, individuals can navigate the appeals process more effectively.
  • 2. Advocate for Simplified Appeals Processes: Patients, providers, and advocacy groups should push for standardized appeals processes across all insurers. This would eliminate confusion and ensure fair treatment for all individuals seeking to appeal insurance denials. By working together, we can create a system that is more transparent and accessible.
  • 3. Report and Complain: When faced with unfair denials, consumers should report and complain to relevant government regulators. This is essential in bringing about systemic change and holding insurers accountable for their actions. By speaking up, individuals can contribute to the transformation of the health care system.


The seismic shift in the U.S. health care system poses significant challenges for providers, but it also presents opportunities for growth and adaptation. By understanding the strategic moves made by payors like UnitedHealth Group and advocating for simplified appeals processes, providers can protect their interests and thrive in this new landscape. It is essential to stay informed, take action, and work collaboratively to ensure a fair and accessible health care system for all.

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