UnitedHealth sees a 'mixed bag' of responses to GLP-1 demand

The country's largest insurer is seeing a mixed response from clients in how they're responding to the growing clamor for GLP-1 therapies, executives said Friday.

On the company's earnings call, UnitedHealthcare CEO Brian Thompson said it's a "mixed bag" in terms of the responses from customers. Some are choosing to provide enhanced coverage, though they're not especially satisfied with pricing of these drugs.

Others, he said, are "backing off given the cost."

"I wouldn't really be directional one way or the other on whether or not we're seeing more or less coverage on the weight loss side as we look forward," Thompson said.

UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty emphasized that cost is the core issue for plan sponsors. GLP-1 cost in the U.S. about 10 times what they cost in western Europe, he said.

"Overall, I'd say that is our focus is to try and find a way to make this a sustainable and affordable space for our clients to support," he said.

Thompson added that while growing interest in these drugs for weight loss treatment is grabbing headlines, over 80% of use today is for patients with diabetes.

UnitedHealth Group kicked off another round of quarterly earnings calls Friday morning, when it reported $5.8 billion in profit for the third quarter.

That's up from $5.3 billion in profit for the third quarter of 2022, according to the earnings report. Through the first nine months of 2023, UnitedHealth has raked in $16.9 billion in profit; by comparison, it earned $15.4 billion in profit through the first three quarters of 2022.

Revenues increased by 14% compared to the prior year quarter, reaching $92.4 billion, according to the report. UnitedHealth brought in $80.9 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2022. Total revenues through the third quarter were $277.2 billion, according to the report.

“As a result of our colleagues’ steadfast focus on helping people access and receive the care they need, we are well-positioned to help even more people and continue to generate strong, diversified growth in the coming years,” said Witty in the press release.

The results surpassed Wall Street's expectations on both profit and revenue, according to analysts at Zacks Investment Research. On the back of the performance, UnitedHealth raised its earnings outlook for the year to between $24.85 and $25 per share.

So far this year, UnitedHealthcare has added 1.1 million members, including nearly 700,000 new lives in its commercial plans, according to the report. It also added more than 400,000 people to its Medicare and community plans.

Total membership at UHC was 47.3 million in the U.S. and rises to 52.8 million when accounting for global membership, according to the report.

Revenues at UnitedHealthcare were up 14%, reaching $69.9 billion, the company said.

Optum's revenue, meanwhile, grew by 22% to $56.7 billion, according to the earnings report. This includes a 29% increase in revenue at Optum Health, the company's provider arm. Revenue per patient served grew by 27%, backed by growth in the number of value-based care arrangements and "continued expansion" in the care options available.

At Optum Insight, revenues were up 35% compared to the prior year quarter following the integration of Change Healthcare, according to the report. 

And for Optum Rx, the company's pharmacy benefit manager, revenues increased by 14% thanks to the addition of new clients as well as continued evolution in its product portfolio. The PBM processed 383 million adjusted scripts, according to the report.

In addition, UnitedHealth Group said its medical loss ratio for the quarter was 82.3%, compared to 81.6%. It echoed warnings made in the second quarter that the hike was due to an increase in care for its Medicare business, particularly in outpatient services likely delayed by COVID-19.