UnitedHealth Group’s fourth-quarter profit soared as the nation’s largest health insurance provider branched deeper into offering care as well as covering the bills.

The health care giant said Wednesday that operating earnings from its Optum division grew nearly 10% to $3.4 billion in the quarter. Optum runs one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefits managers and provides care through its OptumHealth network of doctors, clinics and surgery centers.

That segment served 100 million people last year and saw its revenue per customer increase by a third.

Operating earnings, which don’t count interest expense and taxes, also soared for the company’s UnitedHealthcare insurance side. That business covers more than 50 million people and also dealt with higher costs tied to COVID-19 in the quarter.

That segment brings in more revenue than Optum but isn’t as profitable.

Overall, UnitedHealth Group earned $4.07 billion in the final quarter of 2021, up from $2.21 billion the previous year.

Removing one-time benefits and charges, per-share earnings were $4.48, or 18 cents better than expected on Wall Street, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue jumped more than 12% to $73.74 billion and also topped expectations.

UnitedHealth’s OptumHealth business works with more than 60,000 physicians and runs primary, specialty and urgent care clinics as well as surgical sites.

The company said it pulled in more revenue per customer as it expanded that business and shifted more patients into value-based care. That involves reimbursing doctors and other care providers based more on how a patient does rather than for each service performed.

UnitedHealth and rivals like the drugstore chain and insurance provider CVS Health are moving more into providing care in an attempt to keep patients healthier and cut down on expensive care like hospital stays.

That push can benefit both care providers by brining in more revenue from patient visits and the insurance side by cutting medical costs.

Overall, UnitedHealth booked $24 billion in operating earnings last year, with Optum contributing about half that total.

For 2022, the company reaffirmed a forecast it laid out late last year for adjusted earnings of between $21.10 and $21.60 per share on revenue ranging from $317 billion to $320 billion.

Analysts expect, on average, earnings of $21.63 per share on $316.76 billion in revenue, according to FactSet.

Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc., based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, rose less than 1% to $465 before the opening bell Wednesday.

That share price had topped $500 for the first time late last year, setting a new all-time high.


A portion of this story was generated by Automated Insights (https://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on UNH at https://www.zacks.com/ap/UNH