UnitedHealth bullish about its business in Brazil

Though UnitedHealth Group has recently made headlines stateside for its possible exit from the Affordable Care Act exchanges, the nation's largest insurer still has its sights set on expansion abroad.

Already one of Brazil's largest health insurers, UnitedHealth is seeking to expand its reach in the provider business there, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. As part of this push, the company announced last week during its annual investor conference that it is buying a hospital in Sao Paulo.

"We're becoming more of a healthcare delivery business in Brazil with an insurance arm," Chief Financial Officer David Wichmann said during the conference.  

Much of the sudden interest from foreign investors in Brazil's healthcare provider companies comes from a recently passed law that allows outside ownership in the country's hospitals, Enrico de Vettori, a Deloitte consultant, tells the Star Tribune. UnitedHealth currently owns 31 hospitals in Brazil.

Three years ago, UnitedHealth said it would acquire a $4.9 billion stake in Amil Participacoes, Brazil's top health insurer, the article adds. With 200 million citizens, about a third of whom are covered by private plans, Brazil has the second largest private health insurance market in the world, according to a 2014 report from Deloitte.

UnitedHealth's strategy to diversify its business in Brazil is not unlike its moves in the United States, where it remains the largest health insurer and has recently expanded into the patient-care sector. And despite its troubles on the ACA exchanges, which led to a revised earnings update in late November, the company's healthcare services division Optum remains robust. That division recently grew when it purchased pharmacy benefit management services company Catamaran Corp. for about $12.8 billion.

UnitedHealth also seeks to expand its reach abroad by doing work for government-run health programs, the Star Tribune notes, effectively capitalizing on its success in helping the U.S. fix its faulty federal insurance marketplace.

To learn more:
- read the article
- access a replay of the investor conference webcast (registration required)

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