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Corvallis Clinic asks Oregon to sidestep oversight and approve controversial Optum merger

Commercial building exterior. A sign on the building reads "The Corvallis Clinic."
Corvallis Clinic, P.C.
The North Albany building of The Corvallis Clinic

The Corvallis Clinic, a primary and specialty care practice with 600 employees in the Willamette Valley, is asking the state to immediately approve its proposed merger with Optum Oregon.

The Oregon Health Authority has been reviewing the proposed merger since Optum Oregon filed notice of its intention to acquire the clinic in late December 2023.

The merger has been controversial. Optum Oregon is a local subsidiary of Optum, an arm of the largest for-profit health care company in the country, UnitedHealth Group. United, which is also a dominant player in the insurance market, has alienated some local providers with its reimbursement practices.

Since 2022, a division of OHA has reviewed all mergers and acquisitions between parties that make at least $10 million in annual revenue.

On Friday, attorneys representing the Corvallis Clinic filed a request for an emergency exemption from the state’s oversight process, citing a financial emergency.

“Because of the clinic’s lack of stability from a cash perspective,” the lawyers wrote “the Clinic simply doesn’t have the time to undergo continuing regulatory review without necessitating further cost-cutting measures.”

Moving forward with the Optum merger immediately would provide access to cash to cover rent, payroll and expenses, allowing the clinic to keep its 600 providers and support staff employed, the lawyers wrote.

But the Corvallis Clinic and Optum redacted a more detailed description of the immediate financial emergency from the filings, claiming the details of the situation are trade secrets, exempt from public disclosure.

If Corvallis Clinic is facing an immediate cash flow emergency, one possibility is that it’s been triggered by the recent cyberattack on Change Healthcare — yet another subsidiary of United Health and Optum.

The attack in late February has disabled the platform many health care providers in the U.S. use to process medical claims, leaving them unable to collect reimbursements from the government or private insurers this month. Change Healthcare processes 15 billion health care transactions annually, according to federal officials.

Parts of the claims processing system remain down, with United Health estimating it will be working again March 18.

Optum said it launched a temporary funding assistance program “to help bridge the gap in short-term cash flow needs” for health care providers affected by the hack.

The Corvallis Clinic declined Tuesday to clarify whether it uses Change Healthcare’s clearinghouse to process its claims and whether the cyberattack has contributed to the clinic’s financial emergency.

“We are not making any comments about that at this time,” said Courtney Pouliot, a spokesperson for the clinic.

The Oregon Health Authority is collecting public comments on the emergency request.

Benton County Commissioner Xan Augerot asked the agency to deny it, suggesting UnitedHealth was seeking to take advantage of a situation it had created.

“Is it appropriate to grant emergency access to this acquisition to a predatory, vertically integrated company that has just ensured it will get access to Corvallis Clinic at a fire sale price?” Augerot wrote.

OHA said its health care market oversight team is reviewing the request for an emergency exemption. It can approve the request if there is a situation that immediately threatens health care services and the transaction in the interest of consumers.
Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Amelia Templeton
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