UnitedHealth Group, which runs the nation’s largest health insurer, today announced it will buy LCH Group, a provider of home healthcare services, for $5.4 billion. UnitedHealth will combine LHC Group with its Optum Health division, which provides primary and urgent care services and surgical care 100 million consumers.
The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2022, subject to LHC Group shareholder approvals, regulatory approvals, and other customary closing conditions.
The acquisition comes amid a major evolution in how healthcare is now delivered; the COVID-19 pandemic’s affects on hospital bed availability — and the virus’s easy transmission — spurred quick acceptance of getting care from any location, and wireless technology made it possible to monitor patients remotely, said Lynne Dunbrack, a group vice president at research firm IDC.
Consumers have become more receptive to home care for chronic conditions, whether that’s ongoing care or temporary monitoring and rehabilitation for patients recently released from the hospital and recuperating at home.
“One of the areas a lot of organizations are talking about — both payer and provider organizations — is the concept of care anywhere — really being able to provide care across the continuum of care,” Dunbrack said. “So it could even be digital first [telemedicine or virtual care], remote health monitoring, or mobile apps, or digital assistants/chatbots for symptom triage.”
Lafayette, LA-based LHC Group, Inc. is a national provider of in-home healthcare services for the elderly and infirm and has 964 locations in 37 states.
“LHC Group’s sophisticated care coordination capabilities and its warm, human touch is so important for home care, and will greatly enhance the reach of Optum’s value-based capabilities along the full continuum of care, including primary care, home and community care, virtual care, behavioral health and ambulatory surgery,” Optum Health CEO Wyatt Decker said in a statement.
An IDC report released this month on the “care anywhere” concept involves:
“Optum is a very diversified organization. It has all manner of healthcare delivery organizations that provide care, as well as it has made acquisitions of various tech companies,” Dunbrack said. “So really it’s an expansion of a strategy they’ve been on for quite some time now.”
The acquisition by UnitedHealth follows a larger trend in the healthcare insurance industry. Insurance providers are working to become more relevant to their customers by buying healthcare assets, according to Kate McCarthy, a healthcare and life sciences industry strategy analyst at Gartner.
For example, in 2018, CVS Health shelled out $70 billion and closed a deal to buy Aetna healthcare insurance, creating a new healthcare giant. The acquisition merged CVS’ pharmacy and pharmacy-benefit manager (PBM) business and Aetna’s health insurance.
And last year, UnitedHealth rival and Medicare Advantage provider Humana spent $5.7 billion to expand its home health business.
With an aging population, the need for post-acute care services such as hospice and home nursing is booming, McCarthy said. “There’s a lot of activity in both personal care and behavioral health right now because there’s demand in this space.
“In the post-acute care and home health care, you have the aging Baby Boomer generation, and many people are needing services, whether that’s home health, hospice, or skilled nursing,” McCarthy continued. “That’s becoming a mainstream area of interest for not just insurers but [healthcare] providers. Even when we look at investors and start-ups, it’s becoming a much bigger area.”
In 2021, UnitedHealth ranked eighth in the Forbes’ Fortune 500, with a market cap of $400 billion and about 70 million members. The next largest health insurer, Anthem, has about 39.9 million members, according to Statista.
LHC Group has 30,000 employees, including frontline care providers and administrative and support personnel, and provides care to 12 million annual in-home patients, according to its website.
“Health insurance companies can’t survive just servicing claims,” McCarthy said. “In order to maintain relevance, they have to redefine the boundaries of what they do and how they engage with customers and provide value in new ways.”