Optum spending spree continues, adding to 70K+ physicians

UnitedHealth Group's Optum continues to scoop up physician groups and cement its place as the largest employer of physicians in the U.S. 

Its most recent acquisition of Middletown, N.Y.-based Crystal Run Healthcare — a multispecialty physician group — added more than 400 providers and over 30 locations to its network. 

Optum now employs or is affiliated with more than 70,000 physicians — significantly ahead of St. Louis-based Ascension (49,000), Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA (47,000) and Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente (24,000). 

In the last year, it has also acquired Healthcare Associates of Texas, a Dallas-based physician practice management company; Houston-based Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, a group that employs more than 500 physicians and allied health professionals; and Newton, Mass.-based Atrius Health, a 30-location independent physician group, among other practices.

But it’s not just physicians Optum is snapping up. 

It has also spent billions of dollars on mergers and acquisitions with tech companies, including its $7.8 billion merger with Change Healthcare, a healthcare data and analytics company, and its $5.4 billion acquisition of home health business LHC Group.

Coinciding with this M&A activity, many workers are also leaving Big Tech companies like Google and Meta to work for health tech companies such as Optum because of the mission of healthcare and the opportunity to apply artificial intelligence to the sector.

A recent American Hospital Association report also cited Optum as the biggest disruptor "transforming primary care" — ahead of CVS Health, Walgreens, Amazon and Walmart — and encouraged hospitals and health systems to look for partnership opportunities.

While some health systems consider partnering with Optum for the opportunity to expand their network, others aim to leverage the size and scale of a partner like Optum to alleviate some of their financial or staffing pressures. 

For example, in January, 1,400 office-based employees at Brewer, Maine-based Northern Light Health — including those in revenue cycle management, inpatient care management and analytics — were  transferred to Optum, while 575 Owensboro (Ky.) Health employees switched over to Optum after it assumed the health system's revenue cycle management and IT operations.

"Over the past specifically five to six years, we've been aggregating a ton of assets that can help enable the administrative functions of these systems," Mike Valli, president of Optum's Northeast Region, told Becker's. "The idea behind these relationships is, really, how do we bring everything Optum has to offer for a provider system to them in one relationship?"

Since 2011, when Optum was established, the company has significantly expanded beyond its initial offerings in pharmacy benefits management, care delivery, and data and analytics. Now Optum is one of the biggest players in healthcare, serving 127 million consumers a year across more than 2,200 care sites and working with nine in 10. U.S. hospitals, according to a January report from CB Insights.

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