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UnitedHealth’s Recipe for Lower Costs: Send Patients to Its Own Doctors

Health insurers unveil new plans that offer lower premiums in exchange for fewer choices

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Photographer: Kholood Eid/Bloomberg

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the country’s largest health insurer, is selling a new plan that directs patients to see the company’s own doctors, a wager that some people will give up access to a greater range of physicians in exchange for lower premiums.

The company’s Optum division, the source of half its profits, has spent years buying medical practices and now employs, manages or contracts with almost 50,000 doctors, according to a recent securities filing. That’s equivalent to roughly 5% of the practicing physician workforce in the U.S.