UnitedHealthcare planning largest MA geographic expansion in 5 years

UnitedHealthcare has unveiled its plans for Medicare Advantage in 2021. (jetcityimage/Getty)

UnitedHealthcare is teeing up its largest Medicare Advantage (MA) expansion in five years.

The insurance giant, which currently covers more than 6.5 million people in its MA plans, will expand to 300 additional counties to reach nearly 3.2 million additional members for plan year 2021.

UnitedHealthcare serves close to 1 in 5 Medicare beneficiaries across its suite of Medicare products, including MA plans, Part D plans and Medicare supplement plans, the insurer said.

It boasts 4.5 million Medicare supplement members and 4.1 million Part D members.

"We're coming off of a year in 2020 where we achieved record growth," Steve Warner, senior vice president of MA at UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, told Fierce Healthcare. "We're excited to carry the momentum into 2021."

RELATED: 2021 MA premiums to hit lowest point since 2007, CMS says

Medicare open enrollment begins Oct. 15, and major insurers are unveiling their slate of plans ahead of the enrollment period. MA is a key area of growth for payers across the board, and that's a trend that's likely to continue as the population ages.

Warner said a key focus in 2021 was virtual health. UnitedHealthcare will offer telehealth visits, including those for behavioral health, with $0 copays.

He said UnitedHealthcare's existing telehealth infrastructure put the insurer in a good position to scale up its virtual care offerings amid higher demand due to COVID-19.

"That allowed us to scale really quickly in response to the pandemic as we saw telehealth adoption rise," Warner said.

Other services with $0 copays in most plans for 2021 include labs, routine hearing and vision visits, colonoscopies, mammograms and cardiac rehab, UnitedHealthcare said.

RELATED: MA plan holders save nearly 40% more compared to fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries, UnitedHealth study shows

In addition, members across almost of UnitedHealthcare's geographic footprint in 2021 will have access to plans with $0 premiums.

Warner said another central idea in UnitedHealthcare's approach to MA going forward is keeping care in the home. For example, the insurer will offer its HouseCalls program across most of its plans, in which members will be offered an annual home visit from a clinician to assist with care coordination and to conduct health screenings and member education.

In 2020, the company expects to conduct close to 1.7 million such visits for its members.

Most plans will also offer $0 copayments on home delivery Tier-1 and Tier-2 medications ordered through OptumRx's home delivery pharmacy.

"That sort of at-home theme is going to be important for us going forward," Warner said.