The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has called for an indepth inquiry into the EMIS Health PLC acquistion by United Health Group (UNH) Inc.
The reasons cited are:
- The combined market share of UNH and EMIS in the supply of healthcare IT systems to GPs in the UK.
- The potential for the merger to lead to higher prices or reduced innovation in the market.
- The potential for the merger to make it more difficult for new entrants to compete in the market.
These are valid concerns and we agree with them.
However, there is an unmitigated disaster looming on the horizon if the acquisition goes ahead for all individuals who have their data stored with EMIS health.
To say it in simple terms it is that the largest health insurance provider on the planet will have potential access to all EMIS patient data.
What can they do with that data, and why does it matter? Currently, for the most part the NHS is the provider for health services in the UK, in the future this might change-, with the government and bureaucracy intending to follow the Australian mode of health insurance.
This is then where things become ugly, and several conflicts of interest arise: (UNH means UnitedHealth Group or its subsidiaries)
- Access to Sensitive Information: UNH may have access to detailed medical records of patients, which could potentially influence their decisions regarding coverage, claims, or treatment options. This raises concerns about the privacy and security of patients’ personal health information.
- Denial of Claims: UNH may have a financial incentive to deny or restrict coverage based on the information obtained from EMIS. They could use this information to argue that certain medical conditions were pre-existing or that specific treatments are not medically necessary.
- Premium Setting: The ownership of EMIS could provide UNH with insights into patients’ health profiles. This information could potentially be used to set premiums or adjust coverage options based on individuals’ health risks, which may not align with fair and equitable pricing practices.
- Provider Selection Bias: UNH might be inclined to steer patients toward healthcare providers or facilities associated with EMIS or UNH, even if there are better options available elsewhere. This could limit patients’ choices and potentially compromise the quality of care.
- Data Monopolization: If UNH has exclusive ownership or control over EMIS, it could create a monopoly or dominant position in the market. This can hinder competition and limit patients’ access to alternative healthcare data management services.
- Ethical Dilemmas: UNH might face ethical challenges when it comes to managing and safeguarding patients’ data. Conflicting interests could arise between prioritizing profit margins and ensuring the privacy, security, and appropriate use of medical records.
- Patient Consent and Control: Patients may have concerns about who has access to their medical records, how the data is used, and whether they have given informed consent for their records to be shared between UNH and EMIS. Lack of transparency or control over their own data can erode patient trust.
It is important that the inquiry is widened to incorporate these concerns and in our opinion the acquisition should be blocked.
The CMA has proven that it is an independent body relying on evidence and working for the public good cf. Activision and Microsoft merger was blocked.
- UnitedHealth Group / EMIS merger inquiry – GOV.UK: https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/unitedhealth-group-slash-emis-merger-inquiry
- CMA provisionally finds UnitedHealth Emis tie-up could reduce competition – Digital Health: https://www.digitalhealth.net/2023/03/cma-provisionally-finds-unitedhealth-emis-tie-up-could-reduce-competition/
- UnitedHealth Deal Questioned by DOJ on Risk of Data Misuse: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-10/unitedhealth-internal-audit-shows-data-misuse-risks-doj-says