In the fourth quarter of 2020, health care spending patterns experienced by the country’s largest health insurer “returned to seasonal baselines” even as COVID-19 cases surged all over the U.S. Such is one major takeaway from UnitedHealth Group’s fourth-quarter 2020 earnings report, which offers an instructive look at the unique ways that the pandemic continues to affect health care economics. During a Jan. 20 conference call with investors, UnitedHealth Chief Financial Officer John Rex explained that two opposing forces caused health care spending to align with historical levels. While the amount that UnitedHealth spent on COVID-19-related care increased compared with the third quarter, overall outpatient activity dipped below baseline as the end of the year drew closer, reflecting the fact that more people started deferring routine and elective care as coronavirus cases rose.
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