Optum’s Behavioral Health Visits Up 130% From Virtual Solutions, Even Higher for Medicaid Population

UnitedHealth Group health services division Optum saw huge increases in behavioral health appointments driven by the coronavirus pandemic and enabled the use of telehealth.

Fierce Healthcare reported last week that the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based health insurance and health services giant saw behavioral health visits at Optum increase 130% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Leaders of the company call telehealth a game-changer in terms of bringing equity to health care and addressing population health issues at scale.


This is especially evident with UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) reporting a 200% increase in visits among people enrolled in the company’s Medicaid plans. UnitedHealth’s other major division, UnitedHealthcare, offers and manages several types of health benefits, including those backed by state Medicaid programs.

“We are leaning into telehealth to be a connection point by fostering connectedness between the patient and healthcare provider team,” Dr. Margaret-Mary Wilson, UnitedHealth Group’s chief medical officer, said according to the report.

However, overall use of telehealth within the Medicaid population lags compared to commercial and Medicare Advantage plans. Telehealth claims made up 34% of Medicaid claims while it made up 44% of Medicare Advantage visits and 60% of commercial plan visits, according to the Fierce Healthcare report.


The federal government and state governments partner to provide health benefits to vulnerable populations, especially children, the disabled and the indigent. About 83.2 million Americans — roughly 1-in-4 — receive benefits from Medicaid programs, according to an estimate by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

UnitedHealth Group and its divisions have made moves to bring more robust telehealth services to the behavioral health segment.

In August, Optum rolled out its own direct-to-consumer cash-only mental health service that is billed as a monthly subscription

UnitedHealthcare announced in October that it developed a digital-first health plan called NavigateNOW which was offered by employers in nine markets at that time. Virtual and in-person visits for behavioral health and primary care are free of charge to members
UnitedHealth Group COO Dirk McMahon said in November that he believed that telehealth can fix a nagging access problem in the behavioral health space.

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