UnitedHealth Group (US)

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UnitedHealth Group is America's biggest diversified healthcare insurance and services provider, as well as one of the country's biggest companies by revenues. It operates through two main divisions, often working together in tandem. UnitedHealthcare is the nation's biggest health insurer, offering health benefits cover to over 70m individuals, either directly or through corporate, community and state plans. The proposed merger of rivals Anthem and Cigna would have overtaken United by members (though not by revenues), but was blocked by US regulators. UnitedHealthcare is partnered by pharmacy benefits manager and healthcare administration consultancy Optum. That business was expanded in 2015 with the acquisition of smaller competitor Catamaran, and now manages health programmes, local services and prescription management for 98m Americans. Another bolt-on in 2019 was healthcare payments firm Equian, acquired for $3.2bn. UnitedHealth partners with AARP to market co-branded Medicare policies and forged a partnership with pharmacy giant Walgreens in 2016 to make that chain its preferred prescription filler. Group revenues hit a new high in 2020 of $257.1bn, with net earnings of $15.8bn. More than 78% of revenues were generated from insurance premiums. UnitedHealthcare was founded in 1977 as the parent entity for healthcare services provider Charter Med, launched three years earlier. It has expanded steadily, especially over the past 20 years, by steadily absorbing rival regional insurers. Founder Richard Burke stepped down as chairman in 2017 in favour of Steve Hemsley, who was in turn replaced as CEO by David Wichmann. In an unexpected development, Wichmann stepped down in 2021 and was replaced as CEO by Sir Andrew Witty, the former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, who joined United in 2018.

Capsule checked 26th March 2021

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Who are the competitors of UnitedHealth Group? The next biggest health insurers are Anthem (39.9m members in 2020), CVS Aetna (22.1m), Cigna (20.4m), and Humana (16.6m). See Financial & Insurance Sector index for other companies

Recent stories from Adbrands Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 15th Mar 2018: Former GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty is the surprise choice to lead UnitedHealth Group's pharmacy benefits division Optum, which negotiates drug prices on behalf of insurers and employers. Crossing the tracks to the other side of the negotiating table, and to a divisional CEO position rather than the top job, is a wholly unconventional move for a Big Pharma chief. However, Witty has long been an advocate of more affordable drug pricing and his new role will give him an opportunity to expand his influence in that area. Big Pharma beware!

Adbrands Weekly Update 7th Dec 2017: US pharmacy retailer and benefits manager CVS Health reached an agreement to acquire insurer Aetna for $69bn in cash and stock. Reports of negotiations first emerged at the beginning of last month. The leaders of both groups said the deal was necessary to curtail the soaring costs of healthcare, which are growing at "an unsustainable rate" according to CVS CEO Larry Merlo. The combined group aims to merge CVS's infrastructure with Aetna's patient data to offer a more all-encompassing service offering better care at lower cost. A key aim will be to convert more of CVS's existing outlets into nurse-staffed healthcare clinics that would help reduce bills raised to insurers from third-party providers such as hospitals. "Everything that we're talking about is a complement to the care that is provided by the physician," CVS CEO Merlo told investors. The missing link, though, is those actual qualified physicians, who of course play a dominant role in the healthcare process. Some of CVS's rivals, most notably UnitedHealth and Kaiser Permanente, already own doctors' practices or even hospitals. Those are likely to be the next items on CVS's shopping list, but they'd better be quick. Separately this week UnitedHealth's Optum health service division expanded its own portfolio with the purchase of DaVita Inc's doctors group, one of the biggest in the US, for $4.9bn. It operates around 320 primary care clinics and urgent care centres, and employs more that 2,200 staff - doctors as well as nurses and physician assistants.

Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Jul 2016: US regulators filed lawsuits to oppose both the proposed megamergers between US health insurers, saying the deals would reduce competition. Anthem's planned acquisition of Cigna would create the country's largest insurer by members, covering 54m individuals, while Aetna's intended deal for Humana would make it the leader in Medicare Advantage plans. However, Justice Department Attorney General Loretta Lynch opposes both deals. "If these mergers were to take place," she said, "the competition among these insurers that has pushed them to provide lower premiums, higher quality care and better benefits would be eliminated." All four potential mergees vowed to fight the Justice Dept's case in court.

Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Jul 2015: In other deals, another two of the biggest health insurers in the US are to merge. Anthem, the local #2, has offered to acquire #5 Cigna for $48bn. That follows a similar proposed tie-up between Aetna and Humana. That consolidation would reduce the top five in the industry to just three. UnitedHealth continues to lead with revenues of more than $150bn. The two new merged companies would be neck and neck at around $116bn apiece. However Anthem/Cigna would have more than 53m members, ahead of UnitedHealth at 46m and Aetna/Humana at 34m.

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