UnitedHealth, the biggest U.S. health insurer, has fed its growing appetite for diversification by acquiring Surgical Care Affiliates, one of the largest outpatient surgery chains in the United States. The deal, which is expected to close in the first half of 2017, is worth approximately $2.3 billion in cash and stock small by United's standards, but significant in that it represents the company's latest attempt to diversify beyond its role as a traditional insurer to a diversified health services power.
By adding SCA to its Optum health-services arm, UnitedHealth advances its strategy of providing medical care directly to patients through primary care practices and urgent care centers. United plans to combine the surgery centers and specialty hospital, which serve about 1 million patients per year in partnership with surgeons in 30 states, with its existing care facilities and 20,000 affiliated physicians.
The transaction will create an entity that "advances the strategy of providing patient-centric access to affordable quality care," an Optum spokesperson tells Outpatient Surgery. United already partners with a number of health plans, medical groups and health systems through what the company calls "value-based payment models that reward quality, patient experience and cost efficiency."
In a statement, Andrew Hayek, the chairman and CEO of Surgical Care Affiliates, says the transaction would help independent physicians by providing "high-quality care for their patients while making health care more affordable. The combination of SCA and OptumCare is another step forward toward our vision of becoming the partner of choice for surgeons."
Jerry Sokol, a healthcare transactional attorney and a partner with McDermott Will & Emery, comments on the unlikely pairing of insurer and provider. "Historically, the typical buyers of various healthcare providers were either private equity firms or larger strategic companies engaged in the same line of business," says Mr. Sokol. "Here, recognizing the trend from inpatient to the outpatient setting in order to provide high-quality care in a lower-cost setting, you have a large payer acquiring an outpatient services provider entity. This is an important transaction and will likely signal a continued trend of strategic integration intended to reduce costs, regardless of what happens with Obamacare."