UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) revealed that behavioral health utilization increased notably during the second quarter of the year.
While the leadership of the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based health care and insurance behemoth didn’t disclose specifics, its leadership said the company is assuming higher behavioral health usage as it develops health plan benefits.
Increased behavioral health utilization also played a secondary role in a 14% quarter-over-quarter operating income decrease for Optum Health, UnitedHealth Group’s health services’ subsidiary. The primary driver of the operating income shrinkage came from increased surgery volume among seniors.
“Over the past few years, behavioral care patterns have been accelerating as people increasingly feel comfortable seeking services,” UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty said on Friday, during the company’s second quarter earnings call. “From our perspective, it’s an encouraging sign that more people are seeking help.”
Since last year, behavioral health utilization has increased by double digits.
Witty also called out the access challenges in behavioral health. Optum Health expanded its provider network by “tens of thousands” in 2023.
Optum Health and its entities provided care to about 103 million patients in the second quarter, according to a news release from the organization.
More than 4 million patients and “dozens” of health plans engage with Optum Health providers on a value-based care basis, Witty said.
He added that in-home wellness visits, a part of the value-based care offering, were found to reduce emergency department visits and inpatient days for patients with depression, hypertension, coronary artery disease and type II diabetes.
UnitedHealth Group expects the increased utilization of behavioral health benefits to continue well into the future.
“We don’t see why that trend slows down,” John Rex, UnitedHealth Group’s CFO, said on the call.
The increase in utilization has been seen across several age segments and for a broad range of conditions, including anxiety, depression and substance use disorder, Optum Health CEO Dr. Wyatt Decker said on the call.
Optum, the services division of UnitedHealth Group, acquired Refresh Mental Health in a deal that was revealed in March 2022. Since then, the company has sought to integrate behavioral health into UnitedHealth Group’s offerings more often. It’s also seeking to fuse this and other health care services with health plan designs to establish “payvider” models that can more effectively deploy value-based care arrangements.