Optum Acquired Refresh Mental Health, CARE Counseling To Attack Wait Times

Optum acquired outpatient mental health providers Refresh Mental Health and CARE Counseling in a bid to cut wait times.

Top brass at Optum’s parent organization, the health care behemoth UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH), explained that Optum is prioritizing providing health plans with comprehensive, timely services that can be offered under value-based care contracts. Optum is the health care services arm of UnitedHealth Group. Those comprehensive services include primary care, behavioral health, specialty services and pharmacy services.

“There is a real issue in getting high-quality behavioral services today: on average, it takes over 50, 60 days to get an appointment for high-quality behavioral care,” Heather Cianfrocco, president of Optum, said at the Bernstein 40th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference on Wednesday. “We started acquiring our own behavioral health providers to really lessen that access issue. As a result, that’s another reason payers look to our model.”


Different studies show that wait times are highly variable depending on care specialty and regionality. For example, the median wait time in one study for in-office psychiatric services was 67 days. But it was 92 days in Wyoming (the most rural state in the study) and 73 days in noncore (rural) counties. In another study, the median wait time for psychological services was 12.8 weeks

Optum acquired Refresh Mental Health in early 2022. At the time, the company was ostensibly the second-largest outpatient mental health provider by clinic count, just behind LifeStance Health Group (Nasdaq: LFST). In April, BHB exclusively reported Optum acquired St. Louis Park, Minnesota-based CARE Counseling. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. CARE Counseling is one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S., regardless of industry, according to the Inc. 5000.

Optum sees behavioral health as a wrap-around service for the patients its primary care clinics treat through value-based care arrangements, along with home health care services, Cianfrocco said. Cianfrocco was named president of Optum in April 2024.


“We’re aspiring to be the best in healthcare delivery,” Cianfrocco said. “So [that’s] the best primary care specialty care and delivery service for individuals across the country, where we provide higher quality care, where incentives are aligned, and [where] we’re reducing unnecessary medical expenses.”

Optum, specifically through OptumHealth, seeks to be “the backbone of risk so that Optum can help other companies take on risk.”

“We’re hopefully that stable partner that can help them figure it out,” Cianfrocco added, saying that OptumHealth works with over 100 payers through some kind of value-based care arrangement.

During the presentation, UnitedHealth Group’s CEO Andrew Witty also said that value-based care has been a talking point among payers and providers for over 30 years, but that his company has uniquely established it as a real concept.

“It’s only within UnitedHealth Group and Optum that you see value-based care now at the scale and presence that allow it to operate truly as a business model,” Witty said, adding it is the only company able to deploy it at scale to test it out. 

At the highest levels, the company has been mum on specifics when it comes to integrating behavioral health into its clinical services and as to how UnitedHealthcare, the insurance arm of UnitedHealth Group, approaches behavioral health, especially in the context of behavioral health.

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