Jonathan Wilson Pushes for Change at UnitedHealthcare

Senior Associate General Counsel Jonathan Wilson, inspired by his wife’s own medical struggles, tackles the monumental issues of access, affordability, and transparency in the healthcare space

Photo by Elissa Bean

“You have to have resolve if you’re working in the healthcare space,” reflects Jonathan Wilson. “Most of the matters you deal with aren’t easy to fix, and it can take so long to get to the right result.”

Wilson’s own sense of resolve has seen him through a fast-paced and highly driven legal career. But it is the adversity he has faced in his personal life that truly inspires and motivates him to advocate for both the business and the American public in his role as senior associate general counsel at UnitedHealth Group.

After graduating from the University of Iowa College of Law in 2004, Wilson went on to serve as an attorney at the offices of Dorsey & Whitney, complete both an executive development program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and a fellowship in public policy at the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and to build a diverse practice as a partner at Best & Flanagan.

jonathan wilson
Jonathan Wilson, UnitedHealthcare Photo by Elissa Bean

Being able to learn new subjects and work in a dynamic environment was one of the things that first drew Wilson to the legal field, he says. “My uncles were both lawyers, and they both had interesting and fulfilling careers—they weren’t pigeonholed into doing one thing as their interests developed and their careers grew,” Wilson recalls. “And I’ve been lucky enough to challenge myself and work on some really creative things in my own career.”

Wilson had an excellent opportunity to flex his creative muscles in a case he took years ago, when he represented a company that had installed the security for a large professional sports arena. The sports franchise was refusing to pay Wilson’s client for its work, creating potentially enormous problems with cash flow and business reputation.

“They couldn’t afford to tie themselves up in long-term litigation, but I figured out that the sports team didn’t own the stadium—the county did,” Wilson explains. “I obtained a mechanics lien and, within a week and a half from when I first took on the case, the county had called the sports franchise and told them to pay my client.”

After years of helping his clients navigate difficult issues, Wilson was interested in finding a new challenge, particularly an in-house role that would allow him to get more proactively involved in company operations as well as legal issues. But that decision was catalyzed after Wilson witnessed his wife’s own struggles with healthcare.

“We didn’t know what to expect, or how to navigate an array of providers, specialists, referrals, and physical therapists . . . It really was a crash course in the US healthcare system.”

“We’d been married a little less than a year when my wife started having migraines,” Wilson remembers. “It kind of came out of nowhere. Initially, neither one of us thought it was too serious, but doctors eventually started to order more tests and refer her to more specialists, and we got a better picture of what was going on.

“She had a tumor on the temporal lobe of her brain that had been slowly growing for years,” Wilson continues. “It was very scary news to hear.”

Neither Wilson nor his wife had experienced a serious medical issue before, he explains, which made the experience all the more stressful. “We didn’t know what to expect or how to navigate an array of providers, specialists, referrals, and physical therapists,” Wilson says. “How do you budget for everything? How do you ensure that you’re getting the best care from the best doctors and for the best price and outcome? It really was a crash course in the US healthcare system.”

Thankfully, the anxiety of the experience was alleviated somewhat by the incredible support that Wilson and his wife received from everyone around them—and not just friends and family. “At the time, my wife’s benefits were administered by UnitedHealthcare, and they were so great about answering our questions, helping us identify resources, and giving us a heads-up on how much things were going to cost and what we could expect in terms of next steps,” Wilson offers. “My wife is completely healthy now, but if we hadn’t had all of the support we received, I don’t know what we would have done.”

After seeing the healthcare company’s support for his wife, Wilson couldn’t pass up the opportunity when he was invited to interview at UnitedHealthcare. To him, the position was a chance to both learn more about the industry and see if he could do something to make a difference for others going through intense medical situations.

For the past four years, Wilson has been charged with designing and leading UnitedHealthcare’s affirmative litigation team, which tackles cases of unnecessary costs or other schemes impacting patient care. “I try to streamline things and simplify them as much as possible so that my team and I can make healthcare more affordable for patients,” Wilson says. “The cases we file are designed to increase transparency and stop bad conduct that drives up costs for the healthcare system as a whole.”

“Jonathan’s tireless work to pioneer the affirmative litigation program at UnitedHealth Group has been a game changer for the industry,” says Jeff Gleason, partner at Robins Kaplan. “Our partnership with Jonathan and UnitedHealth has been a great example of how the business and legal sectors can come together to find solutions to make the healthcare system more affordable for everyone.”

“An in-house litigation department doesn’t have to be reactionary and only handle things on the defensive front,” Wilson explains. “It can partner with the business and collaborate with decision makers from across different segments to help drive innovative solutions to difficult problems.”

“Our affirmative litigation program focuses on achieving long-term value for the healthcare system by preventing recurrent harm and exposing important issues in a way that leads to improved performance and greater accountability. We’re trying to protect customers and ensure that there is integrity in healthcare.”

At Robins Kaplan LLP, our healthcare litigation attorneys have successfully recovered millions of dollars for our healthcare clients who have suffered losses due to fraud, waste, and abuse. We serve clients in both affirmative and defensive engagements in courts throughout the country as well as complex arbitrations in cases involving claims of breach of contract, fraud, conspiracy, antitrust, and RICO. Our skilled trial attorneys and acumen in the courtroom allow us to maximize recovery in pre-trial settlements and, if resolution is not possible, we are prepared to try the case to verdict, where we have achieved significant results for our clients.