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UnitedHealth pushes technology for rising profit

United and the other big insurers are falling into a tighter government embrace. Private industry's profit can be seen as the public's savings. Managing the government is now essential to the insurers' future.

UnitedHealth downplayed its financial results today, calling them only solid.

One might say that. Revenue was up $1.4 billion from the previous quarter, and the company took $460 million of that to its bottom line, increasing net margins to 5.1%.

Most companies would react to that with a "woo-hoo!" But this is the age of health reform. Much of United's rise in profit came from increased Medicare revenues.

Like it or not, United and the other big insurers are falling into a tighter government embrace. Private industry's profit can be seen as the public's savings. Managing the government is now essential to the insurers' future.

So United is changing its messaging, emphasizing savings as the key to its IT investment.

Here is an example, from its research arm, now called the Center for Health Reform and Modernization.

The company claims $366 billion can be saved in Medicaid over the next decade through automation, estimating states' share of those savings at $149 billion.

The savings would come from automating payments, better coordination on chronic care, and better coordination with Medicare.

But there is also a political message here. The report concludes that Medicaid reimbursements need to rise to equal those of Medicare. This will mitigate the growing shortage of primary care doctors, the company says.

Take it as a whole. Automation saves, and we have the automation. We're the friend of the doctor, not the government, because we're urging higher reimbursement rates even while promising savings. The money we invest to save tightens our control of the industry.

That's the plan.