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Optum takes its joint ventures to the next (vertical) level

The UnitedHealth Group subsidiary is getting bigger (again). And this time, they’re entering into the... media space?

Is there any type of business that health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group won’t try to stick a flag in?

Per a July 11 article in Modern Healthcare, UnitedHealth’s massive physician group, Optum, is pairing up with media company Red Ventures, and it’s got us asking – What’s next? Optum toothpaste? Optum airlines? Optum exercise bikes (watch out, Peloton!)?

We’ve said it before: Optum just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And this venture into media – called RVO Health – is just one more way of achieving Big Health Insurer status.

The execs have made their plans pretty clear – according to the article, they want to make “Optum the ‘front door’ to the parent company, which also operates UnitedHealthcare, the largest U.S. health insurer.”

Now, you might wonder how a media company helps Optum achieve those goals. Well, Red Ventures has a news and information portfolio that includes Healthline, Medical News Today, and Psych Central, among others, and the JV will combine ““Optum’s drug discount card, online pharmacy and virtual coaching platforms with Red Ventures’ suite of health and wellness websites and its provider review and scheduling platforms,” Healthgrades and FindCare, Modern Healthcare reports.

In other words, UnitedHealth Group is building a completely vertical funnel, that captures patients from their first Google search (Healthgrades), to scheduling an appointment (FindCare), to providing the services (Optum’s 50,000+ physicians) to deciding exactly what’s covered and where (UnitedHealthcare insurance plans).

After watching patients denied care while United rakes in record-breaking profits quarter after quarter, we’re pretty certain this whole operation benefits one group and one group only – shareholders.

And at the end of the day, the United States regulates companies that grow too big and monopolistic for very good reason – they are often found to obstruct competition, and generally lead to higher prices and lower value for consumers.

For example, earlier this year, the Department of Justice sued to block the very same Optum from buying Change Healthcare, saying  the deal would create a monopoly on healthcare data.

So will these efforts by United fall under similar scrutiny? Or is it truly United’s world – and we’re all just living in it?

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