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UnitedHealth Watches COVID-19 Roll Around the Country

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UnitedHealth Group provides or administers health coverage for about 43 million people in the United States, and about 5.3 million people in the rest of the world.

Managers at the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company can see where the COVID-19 pandemic is spiking in the company’s health insurance claim figures.


  • Links to UnitedHealth earnings documents and conference call recordings are available here.
  • An article about UnitedHealth’s earnings for the third quarter is available here.

John Rex, UnitedHealth’s chief financial officer, talked about what he’s seen in the UnitedHealth COVID-19 claim data observatory today, during a conference call with securities analysts.

UnitedHealth held the call to go after its earnings for the third quarter with securities analysts. Securities analysts are people who help investors understand what’s happening at companies that sold large amounts of stock to ordinary investors.

The third quarter ran from July 1 through Sept. 30.

David Windley, an analyst with Jefferies, asked UnitedHealth executives about reports that, in the spring, COVID-19 lockdown rules and other factors were leading to a sharp reduction in use of non-pandemic-related health care services.

Rex said health care utilization returned to at least about 95% of the expected levels throughout the company’s insurance businesses and health care delivery businesses.

Patients’ use of physician services is still at less than 95% of the expected level, use of outpatient surgery is at about 95% of the expected level, and patients’ use of inpatient hospital services is above 95% of the expected level, Rex said.

Care utilization levels have been above 95% of the expected levels at the kinds of commercial health plans that employers offer, and below the expected plans at Medicaid plans and other government plans, Rex said.

“We saw different incidence rates in different parts of the country over the quarter,” Rex said. “You would see, in a particular part of the country, as you saw [COVID-19] infection rates begin to rise, you would see deferral come into that mix.”

Once a community began to get COVID-19 under control, its residents’ use of ordinary health care services would return to more normal levels, Rex said.

Rex also talked about the concern that, in areas severely affected by COVID-19, people’s lack of use of preventive care and normal sick care would lead to patients having more, serious health problems down the road.

Rex said UnitedHealth has not yet seen evidence of pandemic-related care deferrals leading to an increase in patient “acuity,” or illness severity.

“Where we see rising acuity on the overall book, it’s because of the COVID-19 cases that come in at a higher acuity level,” Rex said. “But, if you take that component out, we don’t really see it across the full scope of the book of our business at this point.”

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