How UnitedHealth responded to the new federal requirement for home COVID-19 test coverage

Following a federal directive to cover over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, UnitedHealth Group executives said Wednesday the company was able to quickly pivot in a matter of days to ensure members could access reimbursement for the tests.

Chief Operating Officer Dirk McMahon told investors on UnitedHealth's earnings call that with four days lead time the insurer was able to launch a digital tool for members as well as secure partnerships with Walmart and Rite Aid to eliminate cash outlays for the tests.

McMahon said UnitedHealth is also in talks with other retailers about coverage for the tests.

"We expect more partnerships in the days ahead," he said.

RELATED: Insurers must cover at-home COVID-19 tests starting Jan. 15 under new CMS directive

Using the tool, UnitedHealthcare members can sign into their accounts and access easy-to-understand information on how to secure reimbursement for the rapid tests.

While the Biden administration announced in December it would roll out requirements for coverage of at-home COVID-19 tests, it released the guidance on Jan. 10 with a deadline of Jan. 15, leaving insurers with little time to adapt.

The impact of the additional testing costs was a hot topic at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference last week, with insurers largely shrugging off the potential for a spike in expenses under the new federal directive.

UHG executives echoed their peers on the earnings call Wednesday, saying the increased testing costs would likely be offset at least in part by ongoing care deferrals under the pandemic. They also echoed concerns from the insurance industry about supply; consumers have struggled to purchase the home tests even as demand surged due to the omicron variant's spread.

UnitedHealth Group earned $4.1 billion in profit for the fourth quarter of 2021, bringing its total profit for the year to $17.3 billion, according to the company's earnings report released Wednesday morning.

The results beat Wall Street expectations, according to Zacks Investment Research. Revenues for the quarter were $73.7 billion, which also beat the Street.

Total revenue for 2021 was $287.6 billion, according to the report.

“Our strong 2021 performance and confident growth outlook for 2022 and beyond reflect the accelerating innovation and expanding capabilities across Optum and UnitedHealthcare,” said Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, in a statement.

RELATED: UnitedHealth Group expects at least $317B in revenue for 2022

The results reflect year-over-year increases in revenue and profit for both the fourth quarter and the full year 2021. For comparison, UnitedHealth Group reported $2.2 billion in profit and $65.5 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2020.

For the full year 2020, the company reported $15.4 billion in profit and $257.1 billion in revenue, according to the report.

At UnitedHealthcare, revenues for 2021 hit $222.9 billion, up 11% year over year. The nation's largest commercial insurer added 2.2 million members over the course of the year, backed by gains in Medicare Advantage and expansion in Medicaid. 

UnitedHealth said it added 900,000 new MA members in 2021.

Optum also reported further double-digit revenue growth, with its full-year revenues totaling $155.6 billion, up 14.1% year over year. Optum Health served 100 million people over the course of 2021, up from 98 million in 2020.

Revenue per patient was up 33% over the course of the year, according to the report.

The company expects to earn between $21.10 and $21.60 in earnings per share for 2022 and between $317 billion and $320 billion in revenue.