UnitedHealth taps company veteran to lead growing Optum Health arm

A company veteran has returned to Optum to lead its rapidly growing provider arm.

Amar Desai, M.D., wrote in a post on LinkedIn Wednesday that he is "thrilled" to come back to the UnitedHealth Group subsidiary as the CEO of Optum Health. Desai previously spent several years in leadership roles at Optum before taking the role of president of healthcare delivery at rival CVS Health.

Desai is also an associate clinical professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. He previously served as president of HealthCare Partners, which was acquired in 2019 by UHG as part of DaVita Medical Group.

"Those of you that know me are familiar with my commitment to team, impact, and serving others," he wrote. "I can’t think of a more distinctive platform to make a larger difference in the health and health care of communities across the country."

"When this is done every day across our enterprise, we have the opportunity to meaningfully impact how care is delivered and experienced in the U.S.—one patient, one family, one neighborhood at a time," he added.

At the helm of Optum Health, Desai will lead a team of more than 135,000 employees and clinicians. Optum Health treated 102 million patients last year, according to UHG's fourth-quarter earnings report (PDF). It has been a consistent area of growth for the company over the past several quarters, and, in the second quarter of this year, revenue per patient served was up by 33% year over year.

A major focus at Optum Health has been the push toward value-based care, and UHG said that in the second quarter it added nearly 900,000 patients treated under these arrangements.

Expansion of value-based care initiatives was a major focal point for Desai's predecessor at the head of Optum Health, Wyatt Decker, M.D. Decker will shift to a newly created role as chief physician of value-based care at UHG. In this position, Decker will serve "as the company’s lead ambassador for value-based care, working across the enterprise and externally with key stakeholders to further enable and advance accountable models of care," according to UHG's website.

In nearly five years as CEO of Optum Health, Decker played a "vital role" in building out its value-based care strategy and capabilities, UnitedHealth said. Before joining the Optum team, Decker was the CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

In his own LinkedIn post, Decker said he's "excited to begin a new chapter" as UHG's chief physician. He called leading Optum Health "one of the greatest experiences of my life."

"We have an incredible opportunity to build upon and expand our distinctive care model that has helped millions of people—especially those with multiple chronic conditions or complex care needs—live healthier lives," he wrote. "In this new role, I’ll be focused on strengthening and deepening our value-based care capabilities and innovative clinical solutions across UnitedHealth Group and working across health care to advocate for comprehensive, equitable care that addresses a person’s whole health."