With reform as impetus, many payers enter other businesses

Insurers are using healthcare reform as a springboard into other sectors that are considered more lucrative and less regulated, reports Kaiser Health News. Among the businesses they are entering includes healthcare delivery, physician management, workplace wellness and even overseas ventures.

For example, Rick Jelinek, UnitedHealth Group's head of emerging businesses, said in January the company's future growth prospects would be in services that are "much less regulated" than insurance plans,notes KHN. Among its recent acquisitions: ChinaGate, a firm that helps deliver new healthcare innovations to the Chinese market. Another United subsidiary recently took over a large independent practice association in Southern California.

In December, Aetna acquired Medicity, which helps connect hospitals to electronic medical record systems, and in January hired Charles E. Saunders, a physician and veteran of the investment banking firm Warburg Pincus, to oversee its diversification. Humana has also made recent deals to get deeply into occupational medicine and overseas endeavors.

Large insurers have always been involved in transactions, but the vast majority in the past decade have involved acquiring other payers. However, industry observers believe such moves won't make insurers stray away from their core businesses. "They're very synergistic with ... health insurance" said Ana Gupte, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein & Co.

For more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article
- read Aetna's press release about hiring Dr. Charles Saunders