Digital Health

Optum Enters the Direct-to-Consumer Arena


Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth, recently began selling prescription medications online directly to patients. The company also began offering telehealth services to provide prescriptions to treat depression, erectile dysfunction, and other common illnesses – directly challenging startups such as Ro and Hims that offer online access to drugs for many of the same ailments.

UnitedHealth is the most profitable US healthcare company, with net income totaling $15.8b in 2020, and Optum is its fastest growing business segment. The company has expanded far beyond its payer roots and now employs or contracts over 50k physicians.

Optum launched its online storefront in November 2020 before adding pharmacy and healthcare services in June. It’s recent redesign and cash payment options make it more friendly to digitally native consumers.

  • The Strategy – More Americans are paying directly for healthcare, and by offering cash services to either uninsured or budget-constrained patients, Optum is increasing access to healthcare.
  • The Real Strategy – Optum’s entrance into the direct-to-consumer world defends against rising competition from retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart, both of which have launched digital pharmacy options as membership incentives.

The Takeaway

UnitedHealth’s largest competitive advantage is its vertical integration. It operates the largest US commercial insurance provider, a substantial pharmacy benefits manager, and is one of the biggest employers of physicians in the country. It’s recent expansion deepens this integration, while keeping patient money in-house amid a sea of new competition.

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