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Optum will let doctors who quit Oregon Medical Group treat local patients, lawmakers say

Company’s use of non-compete agreements had sparked controversy in Oregon amid a larger debate
This Oregon Medical Group clinic in Eugene is one of several primary care businesses bought in Oregon by UnitedHealth's Optum Health Division.
May 10, 2024

A pair of Eugene lawmakers say that health care giant Optum, Inc. has agreed to release local doctors from non-compete contracts that critics said had blocked area patients from receiving needed care.  

State Rep. Nancy Nathanson and Floyd Prozanski announced Thursday that physicians and other clinicians previously employed by Optum subsidiary Oregon Medical Group would be free to practice in the Eugene area. The announcement followed a meeting between the Democratic lawmakers and unnamed representatives of Optum, a giant corporation that has sparked controversy while rapidly acquiring physician practices in Oregon and elsewhere. 

“I am relieved that Optum is listening to our constituents and making the right choice,” Nathanson said in a statement. “We must ensure that Oregonians have no lapses in access to the care or life saving medicines that they need. I am grateful to those constituents who contacted me so that I could convey the real impacts caused by this disruption of care.”

The shortage of doctors has been fueling horror stories, with one former OMG patient telling The Lund Report he’d concluded “my cat has better health care.”

Last month, a bipartisan group of Eugene-area lawmakers pressed Optum in a letter to relax enforcement of its non-compete agreements after the Oregon Medical Group began cutting ties with patients because of a lack of doctors. The lawmakers, led by Nathanson, warned of “catastrophic health outcomes” because patients were unable to find doctors to fill prescriptions or treat ongoing health conditions. 

Optium did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Lund Report. 

Optum, a subsidiary of behemoth UnitedHealth Group, purchased Oregon Medical Group in 2020 as part of a buying spree that made it the nation’s largest employer of physicians in 2023. 

In the last two years, 33 doctors have left the Oregon Medical Group, 
Shondra Holliday, executive director of the Lane County Medical Society, told The Lund Report in April. 

In addition to releasing doctors from non-competes, Optum also confirmed that former Oregon Medical Group patients in need of a refill can contact their pharmacy, which will then reach out to the company, according to the two lawmakers. 

“This news is a win for patients, providers, and members of our wider community who are concerned about the impact of a disruption in health care services in our area,” Prozanski said in a statement. “We in the legislature need to continue to look out for our communities as health care companies change to make sure access and cost of care is not negatively impacted.”

The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a rule banning noncompetes for many employers, but it has been challenged in court by business groups.

Earlier this year a high-profile bill failed in the Legislature that would have limited the control investors and other large corporations could have over medical practices. It also would have restricted non-competes. 

House Majority Leader Ben Bowman, the bill’s sponsor, recently assembled a work group in preparation for introducing a new version of it next year. 

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via @jakethomas2009.