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Health insurers see growth potential in urgent care business

UnitedHealth Group, Anthem have invested in clinical care

Some of the country's major health insurers are showing that health systems aren't the only industry players expanding their reach into the booming urgent care business, Forbes reports.

UnitedHealth, the nation's largest insurer, made it clear in its 2015 second quarter earnings report that it continues to focus on expanding its non-health insurance ventures. In particular, its thriving Optum business, which provides a variety of health services, grew 15 percent year-over-year, FierceHealthPayer reported.

During a call with investors to discuss the earnings report, Optum CEO and UnitedHealth Vice Chairman Larry Renfro pointed out that last quarter OptumCare joined forces with MedExpress to run approximately 150 freestanding care centers in 16 local markets.

Though Optum has already helped UnitedHealth become the country's largest independent provider of urgent care, Renfro also suggested that the large insurer planned further expansion into the business.

"As this business matures, we expect to expand operating margins while delivering strong, consistent revenue growth," Renfro said during the call. "We are committed to growing as a leading provider of ambulatory care services, recognizing this capability will be increasingly valuable to the consumer and healthcare system overall."

For all types of investors--including health insurers--the urgent care sector offers steady growth and predictable margins, this month's ConvUrgentCare Report states, adding, "when run correctly, not only can urgent care clinics show strong returns, but they can be highly strategic in the broader competitive dynamics of a health system's service area."

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, meanwhile, has invested in the sector through Physicians Immediate Care, which operates about 30 urgent care centers in three states, Forbes notes.

Health insurers' expansion into the business hasn't been all smooth sailing, however. Humana announced this spring that it will sell its business Concentra, which operates standalone medical centers and worksite medical facilities in 38 states. Instead, the company said, it plans to focus on its other primary care assets.

To learn more:
- read the Forbes article
- here's a replay of the UnitedHealth call
- check out the ConvUrgentCare Report (subscription required)

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UnitedHealth's second-quarter growth all about expanding beyond insurance business
UnitedHealth expanding presence in patient care business
Humana's Concentra sale shows shift in integration strategy
Payers well-positioned to transform healthcare industry in 2015