Staring down new competition, UnitedHealth elevates tech expectations

Optum brought in $91 billion in revenues last year, but UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann says the insurer could "move faster" when it comes to technology. (UnitedHealth Group)

With a data analytics arm that accounted for $48.3 billion in revenues during the first half of 2018, UnitedHealth Group is no laggard when it comes to technology.

But CEO David Wichmann sees that as one area where the insurer could be doing better, particularly as technology giants enter the industry.

During an earnings call Tuesday morning, Wichmann highlighted technology adoption as one of several areas where he feels the insurer is underperforming. He cautioned that “there is nothing wrong” with the company’s current approach but emphasized the need to get new digital tools in the hands of consumers and improve the effectiveness of the healthcare system.

“I believe we should be able to move faster and with greater speed and agility to respond to market demand,” he said.

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By all accounts, UnitedHealth’s data analytics business has already established itself as a powerhouse. Optum grew year-over-year revenues by $2 billion in the second quarter of 2018 and saw a 21.5% growth in earnings to $1.8 billion. Optum’s 2017 revenues exceeded $91 million as earnings grew almost 20%.

Last year, the company also launched Optum Ventures, setting aside $250 million to invest in digital health startups. The venture capital arm is focused on four main areas of technology investment: analytics, digital on demand, consumer-focused health products and healthcare system management.

Last month, UnitedHealth was part of a $10 million funding round for Bind, an on-demand health benefits startup, and agreed to partner with the company in its nationwide rollout. The insurer has also made a significant investment into its wellness platform Rally, which has registered 18 million members, Wichmann said on Tuesday.

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But it’s clear UnitedHealth is also feeling the pressure from huge technology companies like Apple and Google that are investing heavily in healthcare tools, along with a partnership between Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, led by Atul Gawande. That’s at least part of what is pushing the insurer to solidify its technology offerings.

“Chalk it up a little to higher expectations than what we’re currently achieving,” Wichmann told investors adding that he has a “good inside view of what we’re capable of."