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Cover Story
As Shatter-Proof as Ever!
Women have broken a lot of Gender Barriers in Society, But The Glass ceiling is not Exactly in that List Yet
Issue Date - 17/03/2011
“It is Critical to Innovate.”

B&E: Health Benefits and Health Services are the two big bets of UnitedHealth Group. Do you think these alone are sufficient to ensure a high-growth, sustainable future for the company?
Gail Boudreaux (GB): For now, yes. For the long term, we might innovate. Look at our financials – we have done fairly well over the last few years. In 2010, revenues of the group touched $94.2 billion, which was 8% more than the last fiscal. Our strong advances in serving customers across performance measures have come from a consistent focus on basic execution. And as for the present times, we are positive about our potential to address evolving market needs as we believe that our two primary platforms – Health Benefits and Health Services – will be effective vehicles for deploying our assets and resources to help address the broad needs of customers and key participants in the health system and health care marketplace.

B&E: UnitedHealthcare, which contributes to more than 90% of the total group’s topline grew strongly in the last quarter. What was the engine of growth?
GB: To be particular, the fourth quarter revenue growth for Health Benefits was driven by increases in consumers served in UnitedHealthcare commercial risk-based products and in Medicaid and Medicare membership. At present, UnitedHealthcare provides network-based health care benefits for a full spectrum of customers in the health benefits market, and serves employers ranging from sole proprietorships to large, multi-site and national employers, students and individuals, medicare beneficiaries and retirees and manages health care benefit programs on behalf of State medicaid and community programs and their participants. So this “ever-increasing” consumer base ensures a healthy outlook for our Benefits business.

B&E: But the company’s efficiency indicators are a concern. To quote one of them, your return on equity value (18.75) is still much lower than the industry’s (23.33). Your defence?
GB: Look at it this way – UnitedHealth Group’s return on equity in FY2010 actually increased to 18.7% from 17.3% in FY2009. So instead of worrying about it, we are actually pleased with the improvements. Also, the Group repurchased 76 million shares for $2.5 billion in 2010, including 17 million shares for $625 million during the fourth quarter. Therefore, the company ended the last quarter of 2010 with approximately $1 billion in cash available for general corporate use. And this is quite a pleasant situation.

B&E: You currently cater to the health care needs of 37 million Americans. What is that you need to keep in mind to not only serve such a huge base well, but also to grow your customer count?
GB: The key is to remain focused on our mission and making sure the customer and our health plan participants are always our number one priority. To successfully serve the diverse health care needs and benefit plans of more than 37 million Americans, it is critical that we continue to innovate new and improved ways of doing things. From planning designs that pay cash rewards for better health to new primary care models for Medicaid members and high touch care coordination for seniors,UnitedHealthcare should be able to differentiate itself in a highly competitive health care industry.

B&E: What is your next big plan on the cards, considering that there have been some recent changes in top management at UnitedHealth Group?
GB: We have a very skilled group of employees and therefore we want our new leaders to handle even bigger challenges. Therefore, we view expansion opportunities along with the challenge of setting-up a modern healthcare system as our next immediate plan. And it has to happen fast.

B&E: What is the biggest advantage that UnitedHealth Group has over other firms in the industry?
GB: Very few companies have the resources to impact lives like UnitedHealth Group does. Because of the nature of the business we are in, we can change the manner in which health care is delivered and in the process, modernise the system. Today, our company touches the lives of more than 70 million people globally, including nearly a million Indians.

By : Deepti Singh

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