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Next year, UnitedHealth Group — one of the largest health care companies on the planet — expects to make a lot more money in a relatively simple way: by funneling more of the insurance premiums it collects from workers and taxpayers toward itself.

That’s possible because UnitedHealth, known for its sprawling insurance presence, has pivoted to become one of the largest providers of outpatient care by acquiring numerous physician practices, surgery centers, urgent care facilities, and pharmacy benefit managers. And whenever possible, UnitedHealth is directing more of its insurance members to get care and prescription drugs through those entities that are owned by its Optum division — essentially allowing its left hand to pay its right.


“United’s one of the biggest providers in the country,” said Spencer Perlman, director of health care research at Veda Partners. “The insurance side has a cap on profitability. Providers don’t have that. So [United is] passing money from the insurance side to the provider side.”

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