UnitedHealth not concerned by possibility of Amazon entering drug business

Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth Group sees Amazon, who is reportedly exploring entering the pharmaceutical business, as a potential partner rather than a competitor, reports The Star Tribune.

The insurer, which recorded a 9 percent increase in revenue to $50.3 billion in the third quarter of fiscal year 2017, also operates a pharmacy benefits manager service through its Optum division. Optum's operation also remained strong, generating $1.7 billion in earnings from operations, which reflected a 15.7 percent year-over-year increase.

E-commerce giant Amazon has reportedly made a number of strides to enter the drug business, from hiring healthcare leaders like Mark Lyons — a former manager of pharmacy services at Premera Blue Cross — to offering medical devices and supplies to U.S. customers. Some have even speculated the company might use its instant pick-up points to help shoppers quickly obtain their prescriptions.

When asked about the possibility of a new, unconventional player in the pharmaceutical industry on a conference call with investors Tuesday, UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann did not express concern.

"We will continue to engage with innovative and thought-leading organizations and seek to serve consumers better managing their health care needs in helping make health systems work better for everyone," Mr. Wichmann said.

According to The Star Tribune, healthcare investment banking firm Leerink Partners published reports earlier this month indicating  UnitedHealth's PBM service could be "most buffered" by Amazon's disruption of the industry, which is likely to occur over the next two years.  

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