Gov. Gibbons challenges health care merger

Gov. Jim Gibbons urged the Justice Department on Friday to carefully examine the pending merger of United Health and Sierra Health Services before allowing it to go through.

The merger has already been approved by Nevada Insurance Commissioner Alice Molasky Arman.

He said the similar merger of PacifiCare and United Health two years ago produced nearly 133,000 violations of state law and regulations "as well as many improper claim denials."

"Far too many Californians were negatively affected by the PacifiCare and United Health merger, costing both consumers and physicians millions of dollars out of their own pockets," he said his letter. "These staggering figures are cause for concern, and I urge the Department of Justice to carefully examine the potential challenges that a merger between United Health and Sierra Health Care could create for Nevadans."

United Health is attempting to buy Sierra Health Care, which operates Health Plan of Nevada. Opponents say that would give United Health 90 percent of the Las Vegas area's HMO market and 80 percent of the market statewide, a virtual monopoly.

Gibbons called on Justice Department officials to determine what this merger would mean for access and availability of health care in Nevada.

The proposed merger was strongly opposed at a July hearing before the Insurance Commissioner in Reno, including by Bill Plested, past president of the American Medical Association.

He said United Health Group has "an unblemished record of putting profit before patients," and has been sued and fined in several other state for its practices.

Plested blamed the problems with the U.S. health care system in part on "the malignant, explosive growth of giant, for-profit companies" like United Health.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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