Another health insurance option

A major health insurer is preparing to enter the North Dakota market.

UnitedHealthcare plans to begin offering products to North Dakota1 employers with 51 or more employees by October or November, said Philip Kaufman, CEO for UnitedHealthcare of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The company continues to seek approval from regulators to offer products to smaller employers, starting in 2019.

Looking ahead, Kaufman said, UHC has plans to enter the Medicare market in North Dakota in 2020. Having products in the individual market by 2020 also is a possibility, he said.

UHC reports it insures about 50 million people, primarily in the United States and Brazil, in Medicare, Medicaid and commercial markets. It has 135,000 employees worldwide.

Kaufman said the company has established partnerships with physicians across Minnesota and the Dakotas in this reach into the final area of the country in which it doesn’t already have a presence. Its relationships with more than 30,000 providers in 250 facilities in the three-state region includes providers at Trinity Health, Sanford Health and CHI St. Alexius, which have facilities in Minot.

“When we work with providers, we recognize that the clinician is the most trusted person in the healthcare system so having excellent partnerships with the local providers is critical to our ability to provide a great experience,” Kaufman said.

UHC will have representatives in the state to work with providers.

“We see North Dakota as a growing market. There’s a lot of activity there, not just on the oil side but just overall. We see it as a growth market and we see it as a good opportunity,” Kaufman said.

Expanding into North Dakota enables UHC to meet the needs of its larger employers, such as big box stores, that use its products in other states, Kaufman said. Having UHC in North Dakota enables those employers to offer UHC products to more of their employees rather than seek out another insurer.

He added that more choice in health insurance will improve options for North Dakotans.

“It really drives innovation in the market,” he said. “We are investing literally billions of dollars around new technology and bringing innovation into the market.”

Its new offerings include UnitedHealthcare Motion, Rally and Advocate4me. Rally is a digital health experience that offers personalized recommendations to help members move more and eat better. Motion accepts fitness data from a wearable device and enables subscribers to receive incentives upon achieving certain goals. Advocate4me is a data-based program aimed at ensuring that members receive the services they require.

North Dakota subscribers will have access to a Wisconsin call center. To assist households with high medical use due to special needs, UHC assigns an advocate who can assist them in navigating the healthcare system. For other subscribers who contact the call center, the Advocate4me program helps to ensure they get the proper level of care.

UHC also offers a large number of wellness programs, Kaufman said.

“There’s tons of tools and wellness programs out there, but the challenge is really getting people engaged in them,” he said. “One of the things that we think is a little bit different than other plans in the market (is) we have a team that works with the employers, that strategizes with them on ‘how are we going to get our employees and spouses and children engaged in health?’ Having an engagement team really partnering with the employer is critical.”

UHC will make its products available through existing insurance brokers and agents but also will work with employers who contact the company directly.

“We are going to have an extremely broad array of products. We have that as one of our strengths,” Kaufman said. “We try to recognize that every employer has different needs. So our ability to bring configurability is very important.”

Products include high deductible, preferred provider, self-funded and fully insured options.

“We expect to be competitive,” Kaufman said. However, he noted UHC does not undercut competition to gain market share only to raise prices later. Products are offered at rates meant to be sustainable, he said.

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