Delivery of Care/Opinion

When not to be a mouthpiece

Asking questions that do not conform to the corporate narrative can prove harmful to having a healthy conversation

Image courtesy of UnitedHealthcare website

The landing page for UnitedHealthcare Community and State website for Rhode Island.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/14/23
UnitedHealthcare refuses to answer questions from ConvergenceRI, despite the advocacy of its own PR firm.
What is the status of the state’s plan to issue a new contract for the Medicaid Managed Care Organizations, said to be worth $7 billion over five years? What is the status of the innovation hubs invested in by the state of Rhode lsland, in partnership with the University of Rhode Island? Why does Gov. Dan McKee keep repeating the lie that advocates for the homeless want to keep people homeless? Why did the former McKee administration team members James Thorsen and David Patten support Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldellli-Hunt’s efforts to evict the Community Care Alliance from its state-owned facility at 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket?
The war of words between Gene Valicenti and Steve Ahlquist keeps escalating. Perhaps, if Bill Bartholomew has the gumption, he would moderate a debate about housing and homelessness between two. It was also fascinating to note that the Boston Globe’s Dan McGowan sat down to interview Aaron Regunberg – and drew enormous feedback on the platform formally known as Twitter. My request, Dan, for an interview, is still pending, three years later. I’d be happy to go to Gregg’s.
It has been very bothersome to ConvergenceRI to see the way that some have tarred Regunberg for being a wealthy elitist, and difficult to get along with – which reeks of anti-Semitism, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion. It is particularly offensive given that Regunberg’s family were Holocaust survivors. Some days it is important to say such things out loud, the same way it is important to call out UnitedHealthcare for being afraid of answering questions from ConvergenceRI.

PROVIDENCE – When ConvergenceRI received an email on July 25 from Katherine Har, an account executive in Strategic Communications at Sweeny Vesty, pitching a story about the recent $500,000 investment by UnitedHealthcare in five nonprofit community agencies in Rhode Island as part of its “Empowering Health” initiative, focused on “expanding access to care and addressing the social determinants of health for people in underserved,” and offering a chance to connect with Michael Florczyk, the CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Rhode Island, ConvergenceRI leapt at the chance to talk with Florczyk.

ConvergenceRI replied: “I would like to follow up on this announcement to do an interview with CEO Michael Florczyk. I would be happy to do this as an in-person interview, as a phone interview, or by sending a series of questions your way. What works best for you?

The email from ConvergenceRI continued: “If I were to send you the questions later today or tomorrow, would you be able to facilitate a turn-around time so that the responses are received by me by 2 p.m. on Friday, July 28? The plan would be to publish the story in the upcoming July 31 edition of ConvergenceRI.” A high-resolution photo of Florcyk was also requested.

Sweeny Vesty’s Har responded promptly: “Thanks for following up on this announcement and your interest in an interview with Michael. Based off your timeline, it looks like an email interview would work best. When you have your questions ready, we’ll work on getting responses for you, and I’m following up regarding the high-resolution photo so we can get both back to you for your deadline.”

The questions
ConvergenceRI immediately sent back a series of questions to Har:

1. What are the measurable goals for the $500,000 in investments in helping Rhode Islanders meet the social determinants of health to improve health outcomes?

2. In Flint, Mich., pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha has launched a program for her patients and their parents that give them a “prescription” to them for healthy, nutritious foods from a local food coop to address food security issues. Is this a program that UnitedHealthcare would consider replicating in Rhode Island, working with Farm Fresh Rhode Island?

3. What do you see as the causes of the current high unmet demand for behavioral health and mental health services in Rhode Island?

4. What were the reasons for choosing the community nonprofit organizations that you did — Thundermist, Progreso Latino, The Providence Center, VICTA, and Martin Luther King Center?

5. One of the ongoing questions that have arisen in behavioral health care is the need to increase rates of reimbursement for Medicaid providers. Is UnitedHealthcare in favor of raising the reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers for mental health and behavioral health care providers in Rhode Island?

6. The planned merger between Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts regarding mental health and behavioral health services is apparently on hold, because of alleged problems with Optum, the for-profit, wholly owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth, according to information shared with OHIC in Rhode Island. Can you shed any light about what happened and why?

7. What are the opportunities for greater collaboration between health insurers and providers to develop wrap-around services for clients to avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room, such as remote blood pressure monitoring outside of the doctor’s office.

8. What questions haven’t I asked, should I have asked, that you would like to talk about?

All of the questions were straightforward, giving CEO Florczyk the opportunity to talk at length about the goals of the investments and why the five agencies were selected to receive the grants. The only potential “hard” question concerned Optum – information that had been shared with ConvergenceRI from providers.

A delay in receiving the responses
The tight turnaround time for responses to the questions from ConvergenceRI proved unworkable. Har wrote back, explaining: “Writing to follow-up on the list of questions you emailed earlier this week. Unfortunately, Michael is still on leave and we haven’t been able to get finalized responses yet. But he should be back over the weekend. If we submit answers to you sometime next week, would you still be able to use them? Many apologies!”

ConvergenceRI responded positively, saying: “Yes.” In turn, Har wrote back: “Great, thank you! Would delivery by Friday work or would you need them earlier?” To which, ConvergenceRI replied: Thanks, Katherine. If you can get the responses back to me by Friday, Aug. 4, it will facilitate being able to publish them in a subsequent edition of ConvergenceRI. Please remember to send along the high-res photo, too. Thanks!”

When the best plans fall apart
Alas, for whatever reason, apparently CEO Michael Florczyk balked at responding to the questions. As Har wrote to ConvergenceRI: “I hope you are doing well. Writing to update you on the email Q&A with Michael Florczyk we have been discussing. Unfortunately, I’ve just found out that our client has decided not to proceed with the interview at this time. I apologise for any inconvenience caused, especially considering the earlier delays and the time and effort you’ve invested in putting together the Q&A for Michael.”

Har continued: “I genuinely appreciated your interest when I reached out initially and I’m sorry about the outcome here. Thanks again for your time and I sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused, and I hope to have the opportunity to collaborate with you on other projects soon.”

A question of arrogance, narrative
The failure by CEO Florczyk to follow through on the straightforward Q&A, despite the absolute professionalism of Katherine Har at Sweeny Vesty, pinpoints the problem with the way that corporate-owned health care behaves – or is that misbehaves – in Rhode Island.

UnitedHealthcare is very proficient in pushing out its messaging and narrative to position the health insurer in the marketplace. But the inability – or unwillingness – to respond to questions from ConvergenceRI points to the absolute lack of accountability that exists in the marketplace.

UnitedHealthcare is not the only corporation that is apparently afraid to engage with or to answer questions from ConvergenceRI. Should I name them and call them out? To what purpose?

It will not be ConvergenceRI – but the R.I. General Assembly, the RI Attorney General, and OHIC – that will ultimately hold UnitedHealthcare and its subsidiary, Optum, accountable.

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.