Optum quietly adds cash-pay virtual care services to online pharmacy

Optum has quietly added multiple services to its online pharmacy, putting it in direct competition with trendy direct-to-consumer startups.

The UnitedHealth Group subsidiary's Optum Store was first launched in late 2020 and earlier this summer was expanded to include more than 800 generics at a discounted cash price and cash-pay telehealth options to allow members to access birth control, mental health medications and drugs for other common needs.

Business Insider first reported on the updates. The new additions position UnitedHealth, a massive and profitable giant in the healthcare industry, against startups like Ro and Hims & Hers, which offer similar services directly to consumers.

"Optum Store is one example of our commitment to offer consumers meaningful choices and encourage engagement throughout their health and care journey," a UnitedHealth spokesperson told Business Insider.

RELATED: Why UnitedHealth sees combined powers of its health plan, Optum as a competitive advantage

As a highly vertically integrated organization—UnitedHealth owns the largest commercial insurer in the country as well as a massive pharmacy benefits manager and is one of the largest employers of physicians in the U.S.—providing these services is another way to keep patients' money in house.

UnitedHealth Group execs have made clear over the past several months that finding ways to align the services available at its UnitedHealthcare and Optum subsidiaries is a priority. CEO Andrew Witty specifically said he believes Optum's business lines have "untapped potential."

Optum has also been a significant source of growth at UnitedHealth over the past several quarters.

Breaking into a more direct-to-consumer market also challenges the growing role of retail giants like Amazon and Walmart in these spaces. Both have launched online pharmacy options for people enrolled in their membership programs.