UnitedHealthcare to nix out-of-pocket costs for certain drugs, including insulin, for eligible members

Alongside its earnings on Friday morning, insurance giant UnitedHealthcare revealed that it will eliminate out-of-pocket costs for a series of medications, including insulin, for eligible members.

The insurer announced that it will offer $0 cost share for five drugs in its fully insured group plans. The new offering could be available as early as Jan. 1, pending regulatory approvals.

UnitedHealth Group, the payer's parent company, said that the move is part of a broader effort at both UnitedHealthcare and Optum to address affordability and accessibility of drugs. Lowering out-of-pocket costs eases the financial burden on patients while also boosting medication adherence.

“High prices are a significant barrier to prescription drugs for many people, so we are using our unique capabilities to deliver savings for consumers,” said Brian Thompson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, in a statement. “We are doing what we can to shield people from the prices set by pharmaceutical companies, and hope all stakeholders also will act to make prescription drugs more affordable.” 

In addition to insulin, the program will include four preferred emergency use drugs: epinephrine, for severe allergic reactions; glucagon, for hypoglycemia; naloxone, for opioid overdose and albuterol, for acute asthma attacks.

Earlier on Friday, UnitedHealth Group shared that it earned $5.1 billion in profit for the second quarter of 2022, up from $4.3 billion in the prior-year quarter.

The healthcare giant also brought in $80.3 billion in revenue for the quarter, up 13% and reflecting growth at both UnitedHealthcare and Optum, according to its earnings report released Friday morning. UnitedHealth surpassed Wall Street expectations for both profit and revenue, analysts at Zacks Investment Research said.

The company has brought in $10.1 billion in profit over the first six months of the year as well as $160.5 billion in revenue. By comparison, through the first six months of 2021, UnitedHealth Group earned $9.1 billion in profit and $141.5 billion in revenue.

“Customers are responding as we build on our five growth pillars, enabling us to move into the second half of 2022 with strong momentum serving ever more people more deeply,” said Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, in a statement.

UnitedHealthcare has added more than 600,000 members so far this year, according to the report. It brought in $62.1 billion in revenue for the quarter, up 12% year over year.

Optum also continued its hot streak, bringing in $45.1 billion in second-quarter revenue, up 18% compared to the prior-year quarter. That growth was led by Optum Health, which saw its revenue per customer served grow by 30% compared to the second quarter of 2021.

Optum Rx's revenue was also up by 10%, according to the report, as adjusted scripts grew to 357 million.

Based on its performance in the first half of the year and its growth targets, UnitedHealth Group said it will boost its guidance to between $21.40 and $21.90 in earnings per share.