The line between payers and providers bent even further this week, as UnitedHealth Group Inc. announced plans to buy HealthCare Partners from DaVita Inc. It’s the second major acquisition of its kind for UHC this year; the company paid $2.3 billion for Surgical Care Affiliates just last March. The latest proposed deal came to light just days after CVS Health said it’s buying Aetna. It’s all part of a strategy for health insurers to lower medical costs by taking on more responsibility for healthcare decision making, but also trying to gain more access to health data managed by provider organizations. By virtue of taking over UnitedHealthGroup, UHC expects to fold some 1.7 million patients into its Optum health unit. However, some analysts have predicted that those patients will have fewer physicians and pharmacies to choose from, assuming that insurers like UHC will impose stricter limitations on approved providers.
HealthCare Partners operates medical groups that provide fully integrated primary and specialist care services (including 24-hour urgent care centers in some locations) primarily for members of Medicare Advantage and other HMO plans. This acquisition reflects the growing trend of payers investing in delivery networks for population health management—a model in which providers are incentivized based on medical cost savings through care management and coordination.