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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Starting July 1, UnitedHealthcare says it plans to reduce coverage of — or stop paying for — non-emergency trips to the ER.

Why it matters: Unnecessary emergency room visits are a major source of wasted spending in U.S. health care. But critics say this policy from the nation's largest health insurer could hurt patients who mistakenly believe they'll be covered.

The policy has exceptions, such as for patients who are ultimately admitted and children under 2.

  • But visits determined to be non-emergencies will require providers to complete an attestation challenging the call.
  • This policy comes just a few years after Anthem unveiled a similar policy that faced pushback in 2018.

What they're saying: "The goal here is chilling — so people second guess whether to seek care for their symptoms," tweeted Seth Trueger, an emergency doctor at Northwestern Emergency Medicine.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that providers have to complete an attestation (not patients).

Go deeper

HHS to require COVID-19 vaccine for 25,000 of its health care workers

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced that it will require more than 25,000 members of its health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Why it matters: It's the latest federal agency to implement a vaccine mandate, joining the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon.

Students vandalize and steal from schools for viral TikTok challenge

TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen in Krakow, Poland on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A viral TikTok challenge is leading students nationwide to shatter mirrors, steal fire alarms and intentionally clog toilets, The Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Dubbed the the “Devious Licks challenge, students are showing off their "devious licks" on TikTok — with a sped-up version of "Ski Ski BasedGod" by rapper Lil’ B playing in the background.

Axios-Ipsos poll: People of color face more environmental threats

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water or enough trees or green space in their communities, and they're more likely to face noise pollution and litter, a new Axios-Ipsos poll finds.

The big picture: Our national survey shows Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live near major highways or industrial or manufacturing plants — and to have dealt in the past year with water-boil notices or power outages lasting more than 24 hours.