UnitedHealth Group Pursues Integrated Care Amid Rising Behavioral Health Costs

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) has seen a significant increase year over year in its behavioral health care costs.

At the same time, the company’s health services organization, Optum, has also seen a large uptick in behavioral health usage year over year. UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty noted that this trend could have favorable outcomes.

“We’re very positive about that, because it’s a signal that people are engaging in seeking help for their behavioral conditions,” Witty said during the company’s Q3 earnings call on Friday. “And we know that entwines very importantly with their ongoing medical costs.”


UnitedHealth Group is also doubling down on its ability to integrate physical care into its behavioral health and pharmacy offerings.

“This work means developing an even more versatile clinical workforce to serve consumers in more ways through clinic-based Optum care delivery capabilities and extending our reach to consumers who may not have ready access to physical clinics,” Witty continued.

Integrating behavioral health and physical health care has been a long-term goal of Optum for some time. Specifically, Optum leaders have historically discussed the importance of integrated care in accelerating the move to value-based and comprehensive care.


“Our ability to embed behavioral health care services within our primary care and value-based care offerings has been differentiated and will continue to grow, as well as our utilization of virtual behavioral care solutions in both the home and clinic environments,” Wyatt Decker, the former CEO of Optum and UnitedHealth Group’s current chief physician of value-based care, said during an earnings call at the end of last year. “We’re pretty excited about how this is coming together.”

UnitedHealth Group isn’t the only large payer seeing increased behavioral health utilization. In Q2, CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) reported that its payer arm, Aetna, saw its Medicare segment decline in operating income driven by a higher-than-expected medical benefit ratio.

“These trends were primarily driven by higher utilization in the outpatient setting, as well as dental and behavioral health,” Shawn Guertin, CVS’ chief financial officer, said in the Q2 earnings call.

UnitedHealth Group’s third quarter 2023 revenues grew 14% to $92.4 billion year over year, including double-digit growth at both Optum and UnitedHealthcare. Optum third quarter revenues grew 22% to $56.7 billion, according to the company.

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