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UnitedHealth Still Sees COVID-19 Surges Crowding Out Other Care

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In the first quarter, UnitedHealth Group Inc. executives continued to see COVID-19 have a push-and-pull effect on health care claim costs.

The third COVID-19 wave did push up COVID-19 care costs in January, but the wave also reduced use of other types of care, according to John Rex, UnitedHealth’s chief financial officer.

Patients avoided use of elective care, and social distancing reduced the impact of illnesses such as influenza, Rex said.

In February and March, the number of COVID-19 cases fell, and COVID-19 care costs fell to about half of what they were in January. But the reduction in pandemic intensity pulled use of other types of medical care close to normal levels, Rex said.

“Over the course of the first quarter, total care activity, including COVID-19-related care, ran marginally below the seasonal baseline,” Rex said.

Executives said they expect to see the amount of care used increase later in the year, as more people get vaccinated, the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, access to care improves, and the lack preventive care during the pandemic leads to an increase in health problems.

UnitedHealth Earnings

Rex talked about the impact of COVID-19 on UnitedHealth’s claim costs Thursday, during a conference call the company held to go over earnings for the first quarter with securities analysts.

The Minnetonka, Minnesota-based health insurer reported $5 billion in net income for the first quarter on $70 billion in revenue, up from $3.5 billion in net income on $64 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2020.

UnitedHealth’s revenue for the quarter was about the same as the 2019 annual gross domestic product of Bulgaria, according to data from the World Bank.


UnitedHealth ended the first quarter providing or administering health coverage for 49 million people, up from 48 million people a year earlier.

Here’s what happened to the number of people with key types of UnitedHealth health coverage between the end of the first quarter of 2020 and the end of the latest quarter:

  • Risk-based: 7.9 million (down from 8.2 million)
  • Fee-based: 18 million (down from 19 million)
  • Total Commercial: 26 million (down from 27 million)
  • Medicare Advantage: 6.3 million (up from 5.6 million)
  • Medicaid: 7 million (up from 5.9 million)
  • Medicare Supplement (Standardized): 4.4 million (unchanged)
  • Total Public and Senior: 18 million (up from 16 million)
  • Total Domestic Medical: 44 million (up from 43 million)
  • International: 5.5 million (down from 5.6 million)
  • Worldwide Total: 49 million (up from 48 million)

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