UnitedHealth joins University of California in ACO, research partnership

(Mark Citret)

A view of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, one of the UC Health system sites. (Photo by Mark Citret)

UnitedHealth Group and the University of California are embarking upon a 10-year “strategic relationship” that they hope will transition the state to a collaborative, value-based healthcare system.

As part of the initiative, UnitedHealthcare and UC Health will create an accountable care organization (ACO) for self-funded employer groups, according to a recent announcement. A primary care physician will serve as a “trusted adviser” to each patient included in the ACO. United, its subsidiary Optum and UC Health will collaborate to coordinate care, increase healthcare quality and lower costs for those patients.

The organizations will also design clinically integrated care provider networks that they hope will create more affordable and “modernized” health insurance products for consumers. These types of networks, the announcement notes, can improve care for high-risk patients by using data to manage care barriers, improve same-day access to care, close coverage gaps and identify health risks.

"This collaboration combines UnitedHealthcare's care provider network and UC Health with Optum's capabilities to advance patient care into a national model for integration," said Robert Falkenberg, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of California.

On a more academic level, UnitedHealth will provide $1 million to UC Health to fund research projects that study global health issues and to help it develop “the next generation of healthcare data scientists,” the announcement says.  

OptumLabs, a research and innovation venture founded by Optum and the Mayo Clinic, will also be involved. It will open a San Francisco Bay Area facility that mirrors its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and will help UC Health researchers accelerate improvements in patient care by giving them access to what United calls the “largest database of de-identified, linked clinical and administrative claims information in the country.”

The two organizations also plan to collaborate with other organizations as well as recruit tech companies to further healthcare innovation in Silicon Valley. In addition, OptumLabs will sponsor a five-year internship program at the UC Health systems to help train healthcare data scientists.

The is not the first major partnership for OptumLabs; last November it announced it was teaming up with the Department of Health and Human Services to aid the government’s healthcare research initiatives.