UnitedHealth execs dig into expectations for medical costs this year

UnitedHealth Group executives offered additional color to investors on higher-than-expected utilization trends among seniors in the second quarter.

During the company's earnings call on Friday morning, one analyst asked the leadership team if the increases in care use could be "self-inflicted" as UnitedHealthcare's benefits packages have evolved.

CEO Andrew Witty said that given where UHC is seeing higher utilization, such as for outpatient orthopedic procedures, it seems more likely that these are delayed procedures that patients are now able to seek out or feel comfortable receiving since the worst of COVID-19 has receded.

"Bottom line, I don't really think the benefits are driving this," he said. "When you look at the concentration of what we're seeing in terms of the outpatients, the orthopedics, in particular, those sorts of areas, it looks very much more like a kind of deferment of care."

Witty added that UHG's size and diversity offer multiple levers that the company can use to weather care use increases or upward shifts in the medical loss ratio.

Healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group kicked off insurer earnings for the second quarter Friday morning, when it reported $5.5 billion in profit alongside double-digit revenue growth.

Profits were up year over year, as the company posted $5.1 billion in profit for the second quarter of 2022. Revenues grew by 16% from the prior year quarter, reaching $92.9 billion compared to $80.3 billion. Both figures surpassed Wall Street analysts' projections, according to Zacks Investment Research.

UnitedHealth's profits and revenue through the first half of the year also grew from 2022, according to the earnings report. The company brought in $184.8 billion in revenue and $11.1 billion in profit through the first six months of 2023, up from $160.5 billion in revenue and $10.1 billion in profit for the first half of 2022.

“Our diverse healthcare capabilities and dedicated colleagues are enabling us to meet the needs of more people in more ways, driving substantial growth and expanding our opportunities to serve well into the future,” said Witty in the release.

UnitedHealth Group's double-digit revenue growth overall was bolstered by double-digit gains at both UnitedHealthcare and Optum, according to the report. Revenues at UnitedHealthcare were up 13%, hitting $70.2 billion.

Through the first half of 2023, UnitedHealthcare has added 1.1 million members, including nearly 500,000 in its commercial plans. The insurer added 625,000 members in its senior and community plans, according to the report.

Revenues at Optum were up 25% in the second quarter, reaching $56.3 billion. The Optum arm has been a major growth engine for UnitedHealth Group in recent quarters.

Optum Rx, the company's pharmacy benefit management wing, grew its revenue by 15% on the back of new customer relationships as well as expanded relationships with its existing clients. The PBM has also seen "double-digit growth" across several product lines, including home delivery, infusion and specialty, UnitedHealth said.

Revenue per patient served at Optum Health is up 33% compared to last year, according to the report, driven in large part by the provider's value-based care offerings, which continue to expand. UnitedHealth also noted a trend executives brought up earlier this year around higher utilization, particularly for seniors.

Due to the second-quarter performance, UnitedHealth boosted its guidance to between $24.70 and $25 in earnings per share for the year.