Press Releases

Trahan, Massachusetts Lawmakers Demand Answers on Proposed Sale of Steward Physician Group to Optum

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, was joined by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) as well as Representatives Katherine Clark (MA-05), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), Seth Moulton (MA-06), and William R. Keating (MA-09) in writing to the leaders of private equity-owned Steward Health Care and UnitedHealth Group requesting answers on the future of care in Massachusetts following the proposed sale of Steward’s physician group, Stewardship Health, to UnitedHealth-owned Optum Health.

“Since Optum’s proposal to buy Stewardship, we have been contacted by both consumers and physicians with concerns about the potential impact on access to affordable, in-network care,” the lawmakers wrote. “In July 2023, UnitedHealth reported that Optum Health posted a 6.4 percent operating margin in the second quarter — the lowest since 2012.3 This has raised concern that the acquisition of more physicians may be an attempt to offset these lower margins, potentially compromising the autonomy of physicians who may be pressured to prioritize efficiency over personalized care.”

Last December, Steward announced plans to close Mt. Sinai hospital in Stoughton, the latest move by the company that also sold all of its facilities in Utah and closed Texas Vista Medical Center in San Antonio in 2023. A month later, the company it sold all of its Massachusetts properties to in 2016, Medical Properties Trust, announced that it would be taking steps to claw back overdue rent payments from Steward, including the possible sale of some or all of its nine hospitals in the Commonwealth. In March, Steward announced that the corporation had reached a deal to sell its physician network to Optum pending regulatory approval.

Just weeks before the proposed sale was announced, Optum’s parent company, UnitedHealth, became the subject of a federal antitrust investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). UnitedHealth owns the largest health insurer in the United States while Optum employs the largest physician network in the nation, totaling 90,000 physicians and making up 10 percent of the physician workforce in the United States.

“The absorption of doctor practices is part of a vast, accelerating consolidation of medical care, leaving patients in the hands of a shrinking number of giant companies or hospital groups,” the lawmakers continued.

On Wednesday, Trahan secured a commitment from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, the nation’s top health official, to work with Massachusetts leaders as they continue responding to the Steward Health Care crisis. Last week, the Massachusetts delegation wrote to the DOJ and FTC requesting that they scrutinize the proposed sale of Steward’s physician group to Optum. In February, Trahan led the introduction of bipartisan legislation to direct additional federal funding to local, nonprofit safety net hospitals that would be directly impacted by the closure of Steward facilities in Massachusetts. During a January congressional hearing, Trahan slammed Steward’s private equity business model citing its track record of acquiring community hospitals, maximizing profits and cutting services, and then closing or selling what is left of the facility.

The lawmakers requested answers to the following questions by April 26th:

  1. How many new physicians will Optum acquire should the sale of Stewardship move forward?

a.    How many new physicians will Optum acquire in Massachusetts if the sale is completed?

  1. How much will Optum pay for the Stewardship network? What are the specific terms and conditions of the acquisition?
  2. Does the acquisition contain any requirements that each of the Steward Hospitals in Massachusetts remain open? If so, for how long are they guaranteed to remain open?
  3. How much of the funds from the acquisition will be used to repay debts owed by Steward? If so, 

a.    Which specific debt-holders will be repaid, and in what order?

b.    Will the acquisition result in any changes to the terms and conditions of the leases that MPT currently holds on the hospitals’ real estate?

  1. How much of the funds from the acquisition will be reinvested into the Massachusetts hospitals?  Specifically, how will these funds be invested, and over what period of time?
  2. What assets will remain as part of Steward Hospitals after the acquisition of the Stewardship network by Optum? What is the estimated value of these assets?
  3. After the sale of Stewardship to Optum, will Optum allow the Stewardship providers to continue participating in all insurance networks that they currently are members of?  

a.    Will Optum allow them to remain as members of these networks under the same terms and conditions?  

b.    If so, for how long will Optum guarantee that these networks are retained?

  1. What firewalls will Optum put in place to prevent abuse of the UnitedHealth vertical network and prevent related-party transactions with other UnitedHealth entities, including steering patients toward other UnitedHealth entities? 
  2. If this deal proceeds, what measures will Optum implement to ensure that the quality of healthcare delivery, including affordability, is not compromised? 
  3. How will patient data be protected and managed after the acquisition? Will there be any changes in how patient information is shared or stored?
  4. How are you ensuring that moving forward this acquisition will be conducted transparently, with all relevant information provided to patients, providers, and regulators?

a.    Please provide a copy of the Letter of Intent signed between Steward and Optum for the sale of Stewardship Health.

A copy of the letter sent today can be accessed HERE.