UnitedHealth Group COO: Behavioral Health Among Key ‘Building Blocks’ to Integrated Care

Behavioral health plays some role in nearly every division of UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH).

UnitedHealth Group has made creating all-in-one service platforms a top priority in each of its divisions. This integrates behavioral health into the health care conglomerate’s clinical and benefits segments, company executives said during its 2022 investor day event.

UnitedHealth Group leaders specifically highlighted behavioral health in its primary care, home health, health plans, pharmacy and community partnership efforts.


“We’re putting the right building blocks together and taking the traditional model to a whole new level — seamless coordination across all sites of care, integrated pharmacy and behavioral care delivered increasingly in the home,” Dirk McMahon, president and chief operating officer, said.

Earlier in the year, UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty said the company will “continue … to prospect, experiment and invest in areas like behavioral health.”

UnitedHealth Group’s clinical and in-home focus

The holistic strategy translates most directly into value-based care and all-in-one clinical offerings at Optum Health, the health care division of UnitedHealth Group’s services division Optum. UnitedHealth Group’s other major division is UnitedHealthcare, which offers and manages health insurance plans.


Across 2,200 sites of care, Optum Health providers serve over 20 million people in 44 states.

Optum Health is expanding in terms of locations and types of services, Dr. Wyatt Decker, CEO of the division, said. This includes more virtual offerings and behavioral health services.

“We’re integrating behavioral and medical benefits and care, delivering outpatient mental health services in 37 states and offering a growing set of virtual and digital capabilities to patients across the country,” Decker said.

In March, Optum announced that it acquired Refresh Mental Health, a national outpatient mental health system, for an undisclosed amount. It also announced the acquisition of LHC Group (Nasdaq: LHGG), a huge home health company. Both were part of the company’s value-based care strategy and had a behavioral health element.

Optum Health offers care via a variety of value-based care models. Decker said the most impactful model is “fully accountable arrangements.” About 3.2 million are cared for under full accountable arrangements. Decker estimates that number will grow to 4 million in 2023.

Optum Health’s network of about 375,000 behavioral health providers cares for 42 million people. UnitedHealth Group said in its third-quarter earnings call it increased the size of its behavioral health network by 25%.

Specific to Optum’s home health services, Kristy Duffey spelled a grim picture of its average patient. Duffey is the chief nursing officer for Optum Health.

“On average, they’re managing nine different chronic conditions. Many are disabled. They lack transportation, and they live in remote areas,” Duffey said. “They’re trying to manage multiple medications and about 40% struggle with mental health issues.”

Care in the community

The home health division provides encompassing health care services in the home as well as care coordination services. Some of the practitioners included in that all-in-one model are physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers and pharmacists, Duffey said.

At the benefits division UnitedHealthcare, the company is partnering with community organizations such as federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). These are safety-net clinics backed by the federal government through the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA).

The partnerships are meant to increase access to care and to preventative screening services.

In Kansas City, UnitedHealthcare partnered with FQHCs to increase behavioral health and dental visits for expecting mothers which lead to an improvement in full-term births. The partnership also generated a 90% increase in postnatal visit attendance.

“Given the success of these programs, we are doubling the number of federally qualified health centers implementing these interventions and bringing private sector employers to the table to help accelerate these efforts,” Bobby Hunter, senior vice president of Medicare Advantage product and experience at UnitedHealthcare, said.

Pharmacy services offered through OptumRx take a similarly integrated approach to pharmaceutical services. Behavioral health also plays a role in supportive services for those receiving pharmacy services through OptumRx. These include standardized assessments.

Integrating behavioral health into OptumRx is among UnitedHealth Group’s “enterprise growth priorities,” according to its investor conference book.

“As the most common touch point in health care, pharmacy care services are vital to improving patient outcomes and reducing total cost of care throughout the health system,” it states.

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