OptumRx script volume declines in Q2 due to COVID-19

The outside of UnitedHealth Group's headquarters
Insurance giant UnitedHealth Group released its second-quarter earnings Wednesday. (UnitedHealth Group)

As many patients deferred care due to COVID-19, OptumRx saw its first-fill script volume decline by one-third in the beginning of the second quarter, executives said Tuesday.

Script volume began to rebound, though, mid-quarter and continues to gain ground, said John Rex, UnitedHealth's Group chief financial officer, on the company's earnings call Wednesday. Earnings at OptumRx were down 6% for the quarter.

Other business lines within Optum saw much stronger performance amid the pandemic, Rex said. At OptumHealth, the company's provider services arm, second quarter earnings were up 22% year over year, he said.

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"The impact of the lower patient visits in fee-for-service practices was mostly offset by the same temporary deferral of care effects on the risk-bearing practices," Rex said.

Optum  Insights' earnings increased by 7% compared to the second quarter of 2019, Rex said, and the analytics and data business segment saw its revenue backlog increase by close to $1 billion to reach $19.4 billion.

RELATED: Optum scoops up former Blue Cross NC chief Conway for executive role

UnitedHealthcare also reported substantially higher earnings in the second quarter, due again in large part to care deferral. Rex said the insurer did experience some membership losses in commercial business over the first half of the year, but not to the degree some had anticipated.

UnitedHealthcare has added nearly 600,000 members over the past six months in its Medicare and Medicaid plans as well, partially offsetting the losses. Total membership was down from 43.4 million in December to 43 million in June.

UnitedHealth Group reported $6.6 billion in profit for the second quarter, beating Wall Street projections.

That's also a significant increase in profit compared to the second quarter of 2019, where the healthcare giant brought in $3.3 billion, according to its earnings report (PDF) issued Wednesday.

UnitedHealth's midyear profits sit at $10 billion, compared to $6.8 billion in the first half of 2019.

The insurer also reported $62.1 billion in revenue for the quarter, an increase year over year but a number that fell short of analysts' expectations. UnitedHealth brought in $60.6 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2019.

RELATED: UnitedHealth launching clinical trial to test impact of ACE inhibitors on COVID-19 

Through the first half of 2020, UnitedHealth has earned $126.6 billion in revenue, up from $120.9 billion in the first six months of 2019.

The insurer attributes the unexpectedly high profit to large amounts of care deferral due to the coronavirus pandemic and said it's likely to see that offset in future quarters as elective procedures and other services resume.

In the earnings release, CEO David Wichmann touted the company's efforts to combat the pandemic in the second quarter.

“Our 325,000 dedicated team members, including the 120,000 clinicians serving on the front lines of care, have tirelessly responded to COVID-19 with agility, innovation and compassion,” Wichmann said in a statement.

"We moved swiftly to assist the people we serve and their care providers, including the provision of $3.5 billion in proactive voluntary customer assistance and accelerated care provider funding. We remain committed to taking further actions to address any future imbalances as a result of the pandemic," he said.

Though COVID-19's full impact on finances remains unclear, UnitedHealth maintained its full-year earnings guidance of between $15.45 and $15.75 per share.

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