LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - United Healthcare has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit in which consumers with HIV or AIDS claimed it discriminated against them by forcing them to use its own in-house mail-order service instead of local pharmacies.
Any current or future class member who is receiving HIV/AIDS specialty medications through the program by mail may exercise his or her right to opt-out of the program for specified reasons at any time, using simple and expeditious methods to do so, according to the May 29 settlement document.
United and its specialty pharmacy will establish and maintain a unique and designated toll-free telephone number to handle calls relating to the exemption process.
The dedicated phone line will be staffed by customer service representatives who have completed at least two hours of training in communicating with and assisting members, including training with respect to HIV/AIDS issues and concerns and processing members' exercise of their exemption right, according to the settlement document.
United Healthcare will also promptly notify members who are not currently class members but who have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS who are taking specialty medications about the exemption from the program.
Class counsel filed a motion for payment of attorneys' fees and reimbursement of expenses on May 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Class counsel requested nearly $1.15 million in attorneys fees and $16,850.69 in litigation expenses.
The plaintiffs also requested the court approve an additional payment of $10,000 per class representative "based on the effort and sacrifices they have made, including risks to their privacy and impact on health, for the benefit of all class members," according to the settlement document.
The plaintiffs claimed United Healthcare, OptumRX Inc., Pacificare Life & Health Insurance Company and UnitedHealth Group forced United enrollees to purchase their "specialty medications" to treat HIV/Aids from its mail-order pharmacy, or pay thousands of dollars or more each month for their medications.
As a result of the defendants' discriminatory behavior, HIV/AIDS patients faced a "potentially life-threatening decision that also threatens their privacy," the 2013 complaint stated.
HIV/AIDS patients were forced to forego essential counseling from an expert pharmacist at a retail pharmacy and get their specialty medications at United's mail-order pharmacy, they alleged.
The plaintiffs claimed California's Unruh Civil Rights Act barred the type of discriminatory business activity United Healthcare was engaging in.
The plaintiffs were represented by Harvey Rosenfield, Pamela Pressley and Jerry Flanagan of Consumer Watchdog; and Alan M. Mansfield, Edith M. Kallas and Kristin Libby of Whatley Kallas.
The defendants were represented by Peter R. Bisio and Dean Hansell of Hogan Lovells LLP.
A final hearing on the settlement will be held on July 14 before District Judge David O. Carter.
U.S. District Court for the Central District of California case number: 6:13-cv-00864
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