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Dr. William McGuire

Blunt-talking former pulmonologist Dr. William W. McGuire calls the U.S. medical system "sub-optimal." Care isn't always state-of-the-art, and a patchwork of insurance programs can make payments mind-numbingly complex. By plugging some of the gaps, McGuire's UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH). has grown like kudzu. Its earnings have risen 26% annually for the past decade, and 2004 revenues should top $33.5 billion.

When McGuire took over in 1991, UnitedHealth was little more than a regional health-maintenance organization. By trying to offer something for every-body and identifying lucrative niches, McGuire, now 55, has turned it into one of the most diversified health-services companies. If you don't like the restrictions of an HMO plan, you can sign up for a preferred-provider organization. Belong to AARP? You can sign up for a special drug-discount card.

Growth may slow, though. The company expects a 33% earnings gain for 2003, to about $1.8 billion, but that could shrink to 22% in 2004 as cost-containment among its customers takes hold. Still, UnitedHealth is in the pink -- and likely to stay there.

Key Accomplishments

-- A diverse portfolio of plans boosted UnitedHealth's customer base by almost 10%, to 50 million, securing its spot as the nation's biggest health-services company.

-- Set up a program to track cardiology centers of excellence, so that patients can find the best places for treatment.

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