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UnitedHealth drops thousands of doctors from insurance plans: WSJ

(Reuters) - UnitedHealth Group dropped thousands of doctors from its networks in recent weeks, leaving many elderly patients unsure whether they need to switch plans to continue seeing their doctors, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The insurer said in October that underfunding of Medicare Advantage plans for the elderly could not be fully offset by the company's other healthcare business. The company also reported spending more healthcare premiums on medical claims in the third quarter, due mainly to government cuts to payments for Medicare Advantage services.

The Journal report said that doctors in at least 10 states were notified of being laid off the plans, some citing "significant changes and pressures in the healthcare environment." According to the notices, the terminations can be appealed within 30 days.

Tyler Mason, a UnitedHealth spokesperson, was not immediately available for comment when reached by Reuters.

The insurer told the WSJ that its provider networks were always changing and that it expected its Medicare Advantage network to be 85 percent to 90 percent of its current size by the end of 2014.

UnitedHealth is participating in about a dozen new state insurance markets that launched on October 1 to offer subsidized health coverage under President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul.

The insurer said previously it planned to withdraw from some markets in 2014 because of the government funding cuts.

Another top health insurer, Aetna Inc , also warned in October that it expected slowing growth in 2014 in its Medicare Advantage plans.

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Bangalore; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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