Payers, Pharma, Telemedicine

Telehealth, online pharmacy key focus for UnitedHealth, leaders say

UnitedHealth’s 2020 revenue jumped by $15 billion from the year before. As the payer gears up for 2021, leaders except to see demand for telehealth and online pharmacies continue, driving their focus on these services.

Ushering in the new year, UnitedHealth Group has expanded its telehealth offerings amid a steady demand for virtual care services. Further, its leaders see online pharmacy services as a driver of growth in the year ahead, according to the transcript of its earnings call from Seeking Alpha Wednesday when the insurance company was reporting its fourth-quarter and 2020 results.

Telehealth use has “metered out,” since spiking early in the pandemic, said Dirk McMahon, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, during the call. There was a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period the previous year, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

But McMahon expects the demand for telehealth services to continue.

Certain services, like ambulatory or outpatient behavioral healthcare, lend themselves to delivery via telehealth, Dr. Wyatt Decker, CEO of OptumHealth, added during the call. In fact, about 50% of OptumHealth’s behavioral healthcare services are being delivered in a telehealth setting.

“And that has been sustained throughout the year even as the pandemic had subsided, and as it returns, it empowers those populations to get excellent care virtually,” Decker said.

Just last week, UnitedHealthcare announced an expansion of its virtual care offerings. It has launched a Virtual Primary Care service for members enrolled in certain employer-sponsored fully insured or self-funded health plans in 11 states. The payer also updated a policy that applies to fully insured and self-insured employer plans. Through the updated policy, UnitedHealthcare will continue reimbursing local primary care physicians, specialists and select therapy providers for administering certain care through telehealth as an alternative to in-person visits.

Another focus for UnitedHealth will be its pharmacy care services model, which the payer been working to build for the last few years, said John Prince, CEO of OptumRx.

Online pharmacy and home delivery has “been a big grower for us,” he said. “We’ve continued to grow… expand our penetration, but we’ve also expanded our services within pharmacy care services to serve all consumers so that they don’t have to be a member of the [pharmacy benefits manager].”

OptumRx ended 2020 with about $87 billion in revenues. Optum Store, where consumers can buy over-the-counter medications, products for children and infants and at-home tests and devices, and Optum Perks, which consumers can use to find discounts on medications, have also contributed to the division’s growth. OptumRx has good prospects, Prince said.

Overall, UnitedHealth has had a prosperous year. Recently released results show that the payer’s full-year 2020 revenues reached $257.1 billion, up by about $15 billion from the year prior. The growth was led by Optum and its community and senior benefit businesses. Optum’s full-year revenues for 2020 totaled $136.3 billion compared with $113 in 2019.

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