US gov to pay hospitals struggling in UnitedHealth hack, advocates want more

US hospitals and providers struggling to pay bills since the cyberattack on UnitedHealth Group's (UHG) technology division will now receive accelerated payments from US government health agencies to help keep them afloat but medical advocates say more needs to be done.

The US government announced Monday that it will accelerate Medicare and Medicaid payments to some hospitals hurt by the February 21st ransomware attack on UnitedHealth Group's technology unit Change Healthcare.

The Change Healthcare attack – perpetrated by the Russian-linked ALPHV/BlackCat ransomware group – forced the health tech giant to disconnect its online systems, causing a ripple effect across the US healthcare system and a massive backlog of electronic pharmacy refills and insurance payment transactions.

Last week, UnitedHealth provided workarounds and a replacement ePrescribing website for pharmacies to process prescriptions. It also announced it would launch a loan program for providers unable to process the payments needed to fund their facilities.

But US medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) said the government support did not go far enough.

“We appreciate @HHSGov & @CMSG gov for swift action on the Change Healthcare cyber incident. While the new flexibilities are a good start, we urge CMS to recognize that docs are experiencing financial struggles that threaten the viability of many practices,” the AMA posted on X Tuesday.

AHA President Rick Pollack Pollack sent a letter to UnitedHealth calling the temporary assistance program "not even a band-aid" to address payment processing fallout, and called the terms of its loan program "shockingly onerous."

The AMA urged the Biden administration "to go above and beyond what has been put in place and include financial assistance such as advanced payments for physicians."

Payments to thousands of US healthcare providers have been frozen, leaving smaller practices in financial straits, while larger hospitals, at first able to absorb the costs, are starting to show signs of wear, ultimately impacting patient care.

"The magnitude of this moment deserves the same level of urgency and leadership our government has deployed to any national event of this scale before it. The measures announced today do not do that and are not an adequate whole of government response," Pollack said in an emailed statement.

The medical group has urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to accelerate the payment to those affected, similar to funding provided to healthcare organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of the HHS, said hospitals the most affected hospitals can file for accelerated Medicaid, Medicare, and Medicare Advantage plan payments with their third-party payment contractors, who will grant the requests on a case-by-case basis.

As for the notorious ALPHV/BlackCat gang responsible for causing all the damage, it has been alleged that UnitedHealth paid the cartel a $22 million ransom demand over the weekend – causing its own stir on the dark web between the gang and its many affiliates.

On Monday, ALPHV/BlackCat – a known ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) outfit – quietly closed up operations, taking the entire $22 million pot and leaving its disgruntled minions in the dust.

Unfortunately for UnitedHealth and the 85 million patients serviced through Change Healthcare’s platforms, some of those leftover hacker groups claim they still have a majority of the 6TB of sensitive information stolen in the attack.

UnitedHealth Group and Change Healthcare have not addressed the ransom payment or the statements made by either medical organization. The company expects most of its pharmacy services operations to come back online by the end of this week but has not given a target date for the recovery of its medical claims network.