UnitedHealth Launches ‘Free’…

What You Need to Know

  • UnitedHealth has announced test kit partnerships with Walmart and Rite Aid.
  • The company says COVID-19 hospitalization rates are about the same as a year ago but that case severity seems to be lower.
  • Reductions in spending on routine care during COVID-19 surges continue to offset increases in pandemic-related spending.

UnitedHealth has already joined with Walmart and Rite Aid to set up a network for distribution of “free” home COVID-19 test kits, Andrew Witty told securities analysts Wednesday.

Witty, CEO of the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based health insurance giant, said the company started the test kit distribution program just four days after the Biden administration announced the program rules.

The efforts by Walmart, Rite Aid and other companies to help UnitedHealth bring the program to life “speak well to the capabilities of the private sector to respond and solve problems on behalf of the country,” Witty said. “I want to express thanks to the folks at Walmart and Rite Aid, and other companies who will join shortly, in getting this preferred network up so quickly.”

The Biden administration has told health insurers and health plans to work with drugstore chains and other retailers to set up preferred test kit distribution networks that will make test kits available to enrollees at no out-of-pocket cost.

Insurers must also cover up to eight kits per person per month when the insureds buy kits outside of the insurers’ preferred test kit distribution networks.

Witty has a unique perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. pandemic response efforts, because his company helps provide coverage, pharmacy benefits management services or both for more than 1 in 6 Americans.

The Earnings

Witty spoke on a conference call UnitedHealth organized to go over its earnings for the fourth quarter of 2021 with the analysts. The company streamed the call live over the web and has posted a recording on its website.

The fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, 2021.

UnitedHealth is reporting $4.2 billion in net income for the quarter on $74 billion in revenue, up from $2.2 billion in net income on $65 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2020.

The company’s UnitedHealthcare health insurance unit increased its operating earnings to $2.1 billion, from $396 million a year earlier.

UnitedHealth care ended the fourth quarter providing or administering health coverage for 51 million people, up from 48 million people a year earlier.

The New COVID-19 Surge

Witty emphasized that UnitedHealth still has questions about what the current COVID-19 surge will do.

Results for the fourth quarter were in line with expectations, but in the last two weeks of the quarter, “omicron really started to show its face,” Witty said. “We’re still learning exactly what the impacts of that are.”

John Rex, the company’s chief financial officer, said that, at this point, COVID-19 hospitalization rates are about as high as they were a year ago.


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