UnitedHealth Group Inc. sign (Photo: Jim Mone/AP) (Photo: Jim Mone/AP)

Executives at UnitedHealth Group Inc. have left providing health insurance or health benefits in the United States off their corporate emphasis list.

Dave Wichmann, the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company’s chief executive officer, talked about company priorities today, during a conference call the company held to go over earnings for the first quarter. Wichmann said the company will emphasize health care delivery, pharmacy care services, consumer-centric benefits, digital health care, and “global.”

The company recently completed the acquisition of Empresas Banmedica, a health insurer that provides or administers coverage for about 2 million people in Chile, Colombia and Peru. The deal has increased the total number of people in non-U.S. health plans to about 6.1 million. The number of people UnitedHealth covers through health plans overseas is starting to approach the number of people the company covers through fully insured individual and group commercial health insurance arrangements in the United States.

(Related: 30,000 Strong and Counting, UnitedHealth Gathers a Doctor Army)

UnitedHealth is the first life insurer or health insurer to report earnings for the first quarter.

The company as a whole reported $2.9 billion in net income for the quarter on $55 billion in revenue, compared with $2.2 billion in net income on $49 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2017.

The company ended the quarter providing or administering major medical coverage for 43 million people in the United States, or about 1% more than it was covering a year earlier.

  • Enrollment in UnitedHealth’s Medicare Advantage plans increased 11%, to 4.8 million, and the number of people with UnitedHealth Medicare supplement coverage increased 3.2%, to 4.5 million.
  • The number of holders of commercial individual major medical policies fell to 475,000, from 585,000.
  • The number of people in the company’s commercial employer group plans fell to 26.3 million, from 26.8 million, with enrollment in fully insured plans increasing 2.1%, to 7.9 million, and enrollment in self-insured employer health plans falling 3.5%, to 18.5 million.

Wichmann talked frequently about how he sees UnitedHealth’s role in improving health care delivery.

“We are restless as an enterprise for positive change in health care,” Wichmann said.

Employer Plans

Although UnitedHealth is not making commercial coverage sales an area of emphasis, it still covers about more than 8% of the U.S. population through employer-sponsored commercial plans.

Dan Schumacher, UnitedHealth’s president, told an analyst it’s now very early in the selling season for large employer health plans for 2019.

“The pipeline itself is a little bit larger, but also the amount that we’re defending,” Schumacher said.

Many large employers are sticking with their current coverage providers, but some are looking for new ideas, and UnitedHealth believes it has progressive solutions for those employers, Schumacher said.

UnitedHealth did well in the market for health plans for small employers, Schumacher said.

“Our middle market results were tempered,” Schumacher said.

Congress has let the Affordable Care Act health insurer tax return. Some carriers are absorbing the effects of the tax, and others are building the tax in group coverage rates, Schumacher said.

“We maintained our focus on pricing to fit our costs,” Schumacher said.

— Read Forget Amazon. Health Companies Really Want to Be UnitedHealth on ThinkAdvisor.

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