UnitedHealth gives update on cyberattack and pharmacy backlog

UnitedHealth Group is finally addressing the week-long US pharmacy disruption caused by a massive cyberattack on the conglomerate’s health tech subsidiary Change Healthcare.

Change Healthcare first discovered the breach on February 21st, which triggered a system-wide shutdown and pharmacy delays across the US.

Almost immediately following the shutdown, social media lit up with complaints of being turned away at pharmacy counters nationwide, including at many national chains, like CVSHelath and Walgreens.

“Since identifying the cyber incident, we have worked closely with customers and clients to ensure people have access to the medications and the care they need,” UHG spokesperson Tyler Mason told Cybernews Tuesday.

To help navigate the Change Healthcare breach investigation and recovery process, Mason said UHG is working closely with law enforcement, as well as third-party cybersecurity experts at Google’s Mandiant and Palo Alto Networks.

Over the past week, the company has been able to provide “effective workarounds” for providers and pharmacists while IT teams work to restore systems back to normal.

“As we remediate, the most impacted partners are those who have disconnected from our systems and/or have not chosen to execute workarounds,” Mason noted.

Change Healthcare, one of the largest heath technology platform providers in America, was acquired by Optum, a division of UnitedHealth in 2022.

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, Change Healthcare services healthcare transactions (including insurance billing) for more than 85 million patients, or roughly 25% of the total US population.

The company’s pharmacy program, Optum Rx, has more than 26,000 in-network and independent pharmacy’s as part of its roster.

US drugstore chain
Walgreens pharmacy counter. Image by Shutterstock.

Key takeaways in the aftermath

UHG estimates that more than 90% of the nation’s 70,000+ pharmacies this week have been able to either “modify the electronic claim processing” or implement “offline processing workarounds,” to help alleviate the prescription backlogs.

The company also stressed that “hospitals, health systems and providers have connections to multiple clearinghouses and access manual workarounds.”

“We understand the impact this issue has had on claims for payers and providers, the Minnesota-headquartered conglomerate said.

“Any delays to claims processing have yet to impact provider cash flows as payers typically pay one to two weeks after processing. As we work on bringing systems back online, we are also developing solutions to that challenge if needed,” it added.

Finally, UGH noted Tuesday that both its Optum Rx division and US insurance carrier UnitedHealthcare have reported less than 100 out of more than 65 million pharmacy network members not being able to get their prescriptions.

The Change healthcare breach was reportedly claimed by the notorious ALPHV/Blackcat ransomware group on Monday.

At the time of this report, Cybernews has not seen any mention of Change Healthcare – or its parent companies Optum and UHG – on the ransom gang’s dark leak site.

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