Minnesota's largest company by revenue expects to keep getting bigger next year.
UnitedHealth Group detailed for investors Tuesday how the Minnetonka-based health care giant expects in 2022 to grow revenue by about 10-11% to between $317 billion and $320 billion. That's more revenue than the next 10 largest Minnesota-based public companies reported in 2020 combined.
The company expects double-digit revenue growth from both UnitedHealthcare, which is the nation's largest health insurer, as well as Optum, a division that sells health care services ranging from clinical care and data consulting to management of pharmaceutical benefits within health plans.
COVID-19 should have a significantly smaller impact on financial results, executives said, adding that UnitedHealth Group seems to be escaping the pandemic-related phenomenon known as the "great resignation," where many in recent months have been calling it quits.
"In the same period, at UnitedHealth Group we've received 827,000 applications for people to work for us in the United States," chief executive Andrew Witty told investors. "Worldwide it's over 1 million people."
Insurance membership at UnitedHealthcare is expected to grow next year by up to 1 million people beyond its base of roughly 45 million in the U.S. The company expects to pick up subscribers in Medicare Advantage health plans for seniors, while seeing modest enrollment declines in its business running HMOs for people in state Medicaid programs.
Revenue and operating earnings are expected to grow faster at Optum. Chief financial officer John Rex said that among the Optum business, growth prospects are particularly strong at OptumHealth, which operates a growing network of clinics and surgery centers across the country.
Some 60,000 physicians are either employed by or affiliated with OptumHealth, which also works with some 20,000 nurse practitioners and other advanced practice clinicians.
UnitedHealth Group's division for data and IT consulting, called OptumInsight, expects to grow through more partnerships with health care providers, including large hospital systems, Rex said. It's a flip on the traditional relationship where hospitals often struggle with health insurers over payment terms.
"We're often painted as not necessarily the friend of the hospital system," Witty said. "As you'll hear later today, we're increasingly becoming the ally of our hospital partners."
A growing number of hospitals, for example, have been hiring Optum to take over back-office business functions such as collecting payment for medical services.
The company's OptumRx division is counting on growth from investments in community pharmacies plus in-home services for infusions and mail-order medication delivery. The business unit is one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical benefits managers (PBMs) — an offshoot of health insurers that negotiates with drug companies and pharmacies to structure how patients pay for and obtain their prescriptions.
"We recognize that we're just a relatively small piece in this giant health care ocean," Witty said, "but we do believe that we have a really unusual mix of opportunity."
That's not to say UnitedHealth is a small business. The company employs about 340,000 people around the world, including about 18,000 in Minnesota.
Witty on Tuesday sported a different look than the suit-and-tie that's been commonplace at UnitedHealth Group investor conferences. As he walked across the stage inside a New York City meeting hall, the CEO wore a black pullover, jeans and red shoes.
"First, wanted to compliment Andrew on his shoes," Gary Taylor, an analyst with Cowen, said during the question-and-answer portion of the conference. "I haven't been able to take my eyes off those since you walked out earlier."
Witty seemed to have recovered fully from a recent bout with a kidney stone that forced him in October to miss the company's third quarter earnings call,
For the current year, UnitedHealth said it now expects adjusted net earnings of about $17.1 billion, or $18.75 to $18.90 per share, on about $287 billion in revenue. The forecast raised by 10 cents the lower end of the earnings guidance.
In 2022, UnitedHealth Group expects adjusted earnings per share to be between $21.10 and $21.60. Overall profit should grow by 12% to 15%, the company said Tuesday, to between $19.2 billion and $19.7 billion.