UnitedHealth Group to ‘Prospect, Experiment and Invest’ in Behavioral Health, CEO Says

UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH) continues to explore new ways of engaging with vulnerable populations while transitioning to value-based care. Over the next few years, much of that exploration will focus on behavioral health.

That’s according to UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty, who touched on the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based health care giant’s behavioral health ambitions on Friday.

“You’ll continue to see us prospect, experiment and invest in areas like behavioral health, and in areas like oncology,” Witty said during the company’s 2022 second quarter earnings call. “And these are going to be important areas for us to solve.”


UnitedHealth Group and its health care services business, Optum, have already made waves in the behavioral health pool. Earlier this year, for example, the company acquired Jacksonville Beach, Florida-based mental health provider Refresh Mental Health for an undisclosed sum.

Prior to that move, Optum Ventures also made an investment in mental health platform AbleTo.

“Right now, I’d say those are early-day opportunities,” said Witty, referring to behavioral health. “But as you think about where the burden of cost and complexity sits in the health care environment, those are the kind of places where we need to make progress – and we are. And you should expect to hear much more from us on that over the next two or three years.”


About $280 billion was spent on mental health services in 2020, about a quarter of which came from the U.S. Medicaid program, according to White House statistics. Generally, the biggest barriers to individuals receiving mental health services are affordability and access to care.

The cost of mental health and behavioral health issues is growing as well, as more Americans have reported living with anxiety, depression and other conditions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other behavioral health-related issues are on the rise, too, with the rate of autism increasing over the past year and the substance use disorder crisis likewise worsening.

These and other factors are putting behavioral health in the spotlight for UnitedHealth Group and Optum. UnitedHealth Group’s payer arm, UnitedHealthcare, is also beginning to ponder potential behavioral health opportunities.

“We have [shown] up to the market with some new ideas around virtual care,” UnitedHealthcare CEO Brian Brian Thompson said during Friday’s call. “You’ve heard about that with our partnership with Optum, both in terms of product design, as well as broader access beyond medical integrated with behavioral, et cetera, and how we really enable the consumer.”

Overall, UnitedHealth Group’s second quarter revenues grew by $9 billion, or 13%, to $80.3 billion on a year-over-year basis.

UnitedHealthcare Q2 revenues reached $62.1 billion, an increase of $6.6 billion, or 12%, compared to the same quarter last year. Meanwhile, Optum’s second quarter revenues hit $45.1 billion, an increase of $6.8 billion, or 18%, year over year.

From a membership standpoint, total people served by UnitedHealthcare has grown by over 600,000 in 2022, with nearly half of that growth coming in the second quarter. Growth was led by UnitedHealthcare’s community-based and senior offerings, with the payer’s Medicaid offerings climbing by 180,000 in Q2.

“Comprehensive value-based care is a central theme of our growth strategy, helping more patients and care providers transition from traditional fee-for-service to a value-based orientation,” Witty said. “We aim to drive better and more consistent care outcomes at lower overall cost, often for people who are among society’s most vulnerable with multiple chronic conditions, limited income and unmet social needs.”

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