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A move by Optum to change longstanding practices for licensing data to academic institutions has sparked an outcry among researchers, who argue the move will make accessing data so costly and difficult that universities will scale back their research programs.

Optum notified users that future projects must access insurance claims data through an enclave hosted by another unit of the company. Optum is the data and pharmacy benefits arm of the insurance giant UnitedHealth Group.


But using the enclave results in higher costs and technical complications that may make it harder to harness the data for artificial intelligence studies and other types of research. Some researchers also worried that Optum’s review of projects prior to granting data access may restrict the types of studies allowed to proceed.  Because of the higher costs, the University of Michigan is already telling faculty that it will have to limit use of the Optum data, according to an email obtained by STAT.

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