UnitedHealth is buying hundreds of clinics in $5-billion deal as insurers push into patient care

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation's biggest health insurer, is spending nearly $5 billion to buy hundreds of clinics, just three days after rival Aetna Inc. announced a tie-up with CVS Health Corp.

Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth said Wednesday that its Optum segment will buy the DaVita Medical Group from DaVita Inc. in a cash deal expected to close next year.

Health insurers have been pushing deeper into managing or providing patient care in order to cut costs and improve health, especially for people with chronic conditions.

DaVita Medical Group runs nearly 300 primary care and specialty care clinics in several states, including several facilities offering a variety of services in Southern California. It has about three dozen urgent care centers and six outpatient surgery centers nationwide.

Optum already operates more than 1,100 primary care, urgent care and surgery centers through a business it has been expanding.

DaVita Medical Group serves about 1.7 million people annually in California, Colorado and Florida, among other states.

Denver-based parent DaVita Inc. said it will use proceeds from the deal to buy back stock and pare down debt. It plans to focus on its U.S. and international kidney care business.

On Sunday, CVS said it would pay about $69 billion for Aetna, the nation's third-largest health insurer. That deal could position the company as a one-stop shop for basic healthcare, chronic disease monitoring, prescriptions and insurance to cover those goods and services.

CVS runs nearly 10,000 stores and operates one of the country's largest pharmacy benefit management businesses. Aetna covers about 22 million people.

Leaders of both companies are pitching that deal as a way to complement doctor care. They note that the company's vast network of stores and clinics can help patients stick with treatment plans, monitor their conditions and do other things to improve their health.

CVS has been offering blood draws at some of its locations and plans to start adding nutritionists and other expanded services.

Companies hope this more involved approach will keep patients on a treatment plan or living healthier lives, an approach that could ward off expensive hospital stays.

Insurers also want their patients to use clinics and care centers as a way to cut down on the overuse of expensive emergency rooms for care that isn't urgent.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World