The insurer is expanding internationally, focusing in part on U.S. expatriates.
UnitedHealth Group Inc. continues to expand its global reach, announcing a new partnership with an Australian insurance company that will provide health coverage to expatriates working in Australia as well as local citizens.
The partnership with the Sydney-based insurer, Nib, gives UnitedHealthcare International's existing members access to 500 Australian hospitals and about 60,000 doctors.
Simon Stevens, UnitedHealth Group's president of global health, described the deal as "the next building block" of UnitedHealth's international expansion, with the potential to add 2 million customers to its insurance rolls.
"We're in the process of building out what we think will be the most comprehensive network of health care coverage worldwide," Stevens said.
The potential market includes Americans and employees of other multinational firms who are working in Australia, as well as Australians working for U.S. firms and locally based companies. About 20 percent of UnitedHealth's current book of international insurance has ties in Australia, according to the company.
UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnetonka, is the largest managed care company in the United States by membership and revenue.
"It's interesting United is going in that direction," said Ana Gupte, senior analyst with Sanford Bernstein. "They have their fingers in everything, but they haven't been as big in international."
Cigna is the biggest player by far in the market for expatriate coverage, with 15 to 20 percent of its earnings coming from international insurance, she said. Aetna similarly has been building up that market for many years.
"United's just looking to diversify," Gupte said. "They have a very, very broad portfolio with unparalleled reach. And access to capital is a strength. If United wants to do it in a big way, they'll need to do it more through acquisition than through alliances."
Many U.S. firms are expanding their presence in Australia, where the economy has been described as "the wonder from Down Under" with a mining boom fueled by Chinese demand.
The partnership with Nib could remove much of the administrative hassle, particularly for foreign workers, Stevens said. Members will get two cards, a Nib card to use while accessing care in Australia, and a UnitedHealth Global Solutions ID card for accessing care anywhere else in the world.
UnitedHealth announced a similar partnership in March with a Dubai-based insurance company to provide local coverage for workers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Lebanon, Bahrain and Kuwait.
It already is doing business in China, India, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Scandinavia.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335