White House Prepared Short List to Shake Up HHS Leadership

January 22, 2020

White House officials drew up a short list of potential replacements for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Medicare chief Seema Verma at the height of their contentious feud in case either was forced out late last year, three people with knowledge of the exercise told POLITICO.

The officials developed the list days after the increasingly personal clash between Azar and Verma spilled into public view following a Nov. 26 POLITICO report that first detailed their rift. Two people with knowledge stressed that the names were not shared with President Donald Trump and that Azar and Verma are expected to remain in their roles through at least the rest of Trump’s first term.

White House officials drew up a short list of potential replacements for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Medicare chief Seema Verma at the height of their contentious feud in case either was forced out late last year, three people with knowledge of the exercise told POLITICO.

The officials developed the list days after the increasingly personal clash between Azar and Verma spilled into public view following a Nov. 26 POLITICO report that first detailed their rift. Two people with knowledge stressed that the names were not shared with President Donald Trump and that Azar and Verma are expected to remain in their roles through at least the rest of Trump’s first term.

Azar and Verma have worked to quell their feud since Vice President Mike Pence and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney last month urged them to get along. Although Trump berated Azar over bad health care polling last week, White House and HHS officials said his job remains secure….

Read the full Politico article

Centene, WellCare Merger Nears Finish Line

January 22, 2020

Health insurers Centene Corp. and WellCare Health Plans said they expect to close their $17 billion merger on Thursday, creating one of the largest providers of government-sponsored health plans with roughly 22 million members.

The insurers announced late Tuesday that they have cleared all the necessary regulatory hurdles to close the deal, including passing a review by the U.S. Justice Department. The companies previously entered agreements to divest parts of their businesses in several locations, all of which will be completed this week.

Health insurers Centene Corp. and WellCare Health Plans said they expect to close their $17 billion merger on Thursday, creating one of the largest providers of government-sponsored health plans with roughly 22 million members.

The insurers announced late Tuesday that they have cleared all the necessary regulatory hurdles to close the deal, including passing a review by the U.S. Justice Department. The companies previously entered agreements to divest parts of their businesses in several locations, all of which will be completed this week.

The American Hospital Association had urged the Justice Department to thoroughly review the merger, arguing it could reduce competition among managed Medicaid, Medicare Advantage and Affordable Care Act marketplace plans….

Read the full Modern Healthcare article

Datapoint: Kaiser Pledges $25 Million to California Housing Fund

January 22, 2020

Kaiser Permanente last week pledged $25 million to California Governor Gavin Newsom (D)’s new affordable housing fund, which aims to combat homelessness in the state. Homelessness and housing insecurity can greatly exacerbate health issues among vulnerable populations, and a Kaiser official in a press release said the initiative aligns with its goal to “create total health for our members and our communities.” Kaiser Foundation Health Plan currently serves 8.8 million members in California, with 208,899 enrolled in a Medicaid or Medicare-Medicaid dual eligible plan.

Kaiser Permanente last week pledged $25 million to California Governor Gavin Newsom (D)’s new affordable housing fund, which aims to combat homelessness in the state. Homelessness and housing insecurity can greatly exacerbate health issues among vulnerable populations, and a Kaiser official in a press release said the initiative aligns with its goal to “create total health for our members and our communities.” Kaiser Foundation Health Plan currently serves 8.8 million members in California, with 208,899 enrolled in a Medicaid or Medicare-Medicaid dual eligible plan.

Source: AIS’s Directory of Health Plans

Optum, UHC Units Drive UnitedHealth’s Strong 2019 Performance

January 22, 2020

UnitedHealth Group beat analysts’ earnings-per-share estimate for 2019’s fourth quarter, driven by strong performance in both its UnitedHealthcare and Optum segments.

For the full 2019 calendar year, earnings from operations grew $2.3 billion, or 13.5% year over year to $19.7 billion, the company said. Full year adjusted net earnings per share of $15.11 grew 17% year over year.

By Jane Anderson

UnitedHealth Group beat analysts’ earnings-per-share estimate for 2019’s fourth quarter, driven by strong performance in both its UnitedHealthcare and Optum segments.

For the full 2019 calendar year, earnings from operations grew $2.3 billion, or 13.5% year over year to $19.7 billion, the company said. Full year adjusted net earnings per share of $15.11 grew 17% year over year.

“Underlying results were solid, with UnitedHealthcare (earnings $2.08 billion vs. consensus $1.88 billion) outperforming, while Optum was roughly in line (earnings $3.02 billion),” said Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. analyst Michael Wiederhorn in a Jan. 15 investor note.

UnitedHealth also predicted that its Medicare Advantage (MA) business — including dual-eligibles — would grow by approximately 700,000 people in 2020. Meanwhile, United’s medical loss ratio for full-year 2019 came in at 82.5%, in line with analysts’ expectations.

UnitedHealth’s MA plans grew to serve 5.3 million people by the end of 2019, up by 325,000 beneficiaries, and the company expects rapid MA growth to continue in both the individual and group retiree markets. “We are off to a strong start in Medicare Advantage this year,” Dirk McMahon, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare division, said during the company’s earnings conference call.

UnitedHealth’s Medicaid business also is performing well, with new contracts in Washington state, Texas and Nebraska, and more business possible in 2020 in North Carolina and Kentucky, Wiederhorn said.

Overall, UnitedHealth Group posted $60.9 billion in revenues and $5.1 billion in earnings from operations for the fourth quarter of 2019 for a 5.8% net margin. For all of 2019, revenues came in at $242.2 billion, while earnings from operations were $19.7 billion, with a 5.7% net margin.

Datapoint: United’s MA Enrollment Grew More Than 7% Year-Over-Year

January 21, 2020

From January 2019 to January 2020, UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment grew 7.5% to 6.2 million lives, according to the latest update to AIS’s Directory of Health Plans. During the company’s fourth-quarter 2019 earnings call last week, UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann called the most recent Medicare Annual Election Period its “strongest ever,” and said the company expects to enroll an additional 700,000 MA members over the course of 2020.

From January 2019 to January 2020, UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment grew 7.5% to 6.2 million lives, according to the latest update to AIS’s Directory of Health Plans. During the company’s fourth-quarter 2019 earnings call last week, UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann called the most recent Medicare Annual Election Period its “strongest ever,” and said the company expects to enroll an additional 700,000 MA members over the course of 2020.

Source: AIS’s Directory of Health Plans