Witty: UnitedHealth bullish on its growth trajectory, particularly for Optum

UnitedHealth Group has been steadily growing, but the sheer size of the company has investors wondering, "When will it end?"

Executives said Wednesday at the BofA Securities Healthcare Conference that they're confident the company will continue to meet its double-digit growth targets even as it continues to expand. That's because UHG views its diverse business lines as less of a portfolio and more of a series of interconnected "flywheels," CEO Andrew Witty said.

"If you have the right flywheels connected in the right ways, the degree of lift you can get from any given part of the system is significant," Witty said.

For example, UnitedHealth Group acquired naviHealth, a post-acute care company, about one year ago. NaviHealth had 5 million members at the time, which has doubled over the past year as part of Optum, Witty noted.

While naviHealth sits under its Optum Health subsidiary, its reach is felt in other parts of the company, hence the interconnected flywheel image, Witty explained. He said a number of UnitedHealth's acquisitions over the past several years bolt on similarly.

UnitedHealth Group is "really fixated" on the way the different wings of its enterprise fit together, he said.

As soon as there's one part of the company that's just sitting on its own, that probably suggests it doesn't belong within the company, Witty said.

A strategic focus since Witty stepped into the CEO role last year has been finding more ways to synergize UnitedHealthcare's and Optum's strengths to drive the company's goals, which include greater value-based care and a push for virtual and digital solutions.

Identifying those synergies as well as ways to deploy acquisitions in multiple avenues is critical to meeting the company's ambitious growth targets, Witty said. UnitedHealth Group wants to grow its adjusted earnings per share by 13% to 16% each year in the near term.

He said Optum in particular still feels like it has plenty of room to grow. Though it's expanded significantly since its founding in 2011, he said it still feels like "early days" at Optum.

"When you look at our forward expectations, particularly for Optum Health, it feels very much like its best days are in front of it," Witty said.