On Jan. 12, 2012, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report announced his possible candidacy for the presidency in South Carolina. But first, he had to do one very important thing: transfer control of his super PAC to Jon Stewart.
Perhaps he was taking a page out of UnitedHealth Group's playbook.

In its bid to dominate healthcare as we know it and as we may cease to recognize it come 2014 UnitedHealth Group now consists of two market-facing business platforms: UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer based on revenue, and Optum, its technology-driven health services business.

Six months ago, in response to UnitedHealth's second-quarter 2011 earnings call, Forbes analyst John Graham remarked: Much of Optum's revenue comes from other payers, that is, UNH's [UnitedHealthcare] competitors. For how long will they be happy to pay their competitor to feed its fastest-growing business

That growth continues. In its fourth-quarter earnings call on Jan. 19, UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen J. Helmsley reported 2011 revenue growth of 21 percent for Optum and 8 percent for UnitedHealthcare, stating: What we hope you are sensing is that UnitedHealthcare and Optum are distinct yet powerfully complementary business platforms  followed by the not-so-distinct things that they do share, including common relationships enterprise-wide, from regulators to care providers, the government, and other benefit sponsors in pharma, both as customer and as supplier.

Helmsley continued, UnitedHealthcare is one of the most prolific health data producers in the country. Optum is expert at translating data into information that can be used to analyze costs and performance, compare clinical effectiveness, execute predictive modeling and provide decision-making information to consumers, care providers, other payers and the government.

The amassing of data by the right hand complemented by the left hand's expertise at translating such data for critical financial decisions takes us back to the original question: Just how high is the firewall between UnitedHealthcare and Optum. Some of UnitedHealth's competitors are asking the same question and making big moves regardless of the answer.

After UnitedHealth subsidiary OptumHealth announced plans to acquire Monarch HealthCare a large, influential medical group in Los Angeles and Orange counties two Blue plans wasted little time responding. Anthem Blue Cross decided it was time to end its accountable care organization with Monarch, while Blue Shield of California decided to terminate its HMO contract with Monarch altogether.


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