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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

UnitedHealthcare is delaying a new policy that would have declined or limited coverage of an emergency room visit if the visit was found to be non-emergent after the fact.

Driving the news: The largest U.S. health insurer came under fire from provider and hospital groups who said the policy came at a particularly bad time, given that many patients might still be avoiding seeking appropriate care because of lingering COVID fears.

What's happening: United said it would delay the policy until at least until the "end of the national public health emergency period."

Between the lines: The pandemic already led to large reductions in patients seeking ER care, leaving experts to wonder why the nation's largest health insurer now wanted to initiate a change that would force patients to diagnose themselves and self-ration care.

  • Research published this week in Health Affairs found the most serious visits — those for emergency, nonpreventable care — decreased by 40%, and nonemergency visits decreased by 52%, Axios' Caitlin Owens reported.
  • The decision seemed to be motivated by making sure people didn't return to old habits, Chas Roades, a co-founder of Gist Healthcare, told New York Times. "I can't quite believe the juice is really worth the squeeze on this policy right now," he said.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Sep 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Reported firearm injuries spiked in 2020

Data: Epic Health Research Network (EHRN.org); Chart: Axios Visuals

A new study found health care visits for gun injuries rose sharply last year during the pandemic.

Why it matters: The new data from electronic health records helps confirm media reports and preliminary data suggesting a surge in gun violence in many cities.

26 mins ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.