UnitedHealthcare has upped its ownership stake in a Twin Cities business with a unique approach to structuring health insurance benefits.
The Minnetonka-based health insurance giant said it added to its majority ownership of Bind Benefits last year and — as of Thursday — is rebranding the business as Surest.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Bind Benefits initially was designed as an option for self-insured employers — typically those with operations in multiple states willing to take on the financial risk for medical claims.
On Thursday, Surest said it is expanding the number of states, including Minnesota, where its health plans can be sold as a "fully insured" option for employers. That means companies pay the insurer to take financial risk for the cost of medical claims.
Surest health plans differ in their benefit structure by asking patients to pay a variety of copays when they receive different types of care, rather than meeting a deductible.
"UnitedHealthcare has always had a long relationship with Surest and served as one of the largest early investors, essentially at the launch, when it started in 2016," said Alison Richards, the chief executive at Surest.
Surest has been at the forefront of an emerging trend of alternative health plans that try to get enrollees engaged with making better decisions on where and how to access care, said Brooks Deibele, enterprise sales leader in Minneapolis for Holmes Murphy, a benefits consultant.
The health plans provide a more personalized experience, Deibele said, and are offered by a growing number of companies including Coupe Health, which was launched by the parent company of Eagan-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
"The plan designs are constructed to generally incentivize members to access higher quality and more efficient providers or more cost-effective sites of care," Deibele said in an e-mail. "They do this by offering some services for little to no cost or by providing direct incentives back to the member."
UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest health insurer, is the health plan business at Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group.
The company says Surest has had the fastest growth among UnitedHealthcare's employer-sponsored plans. More than 150 employers offer the health plans now, Richards said, and more are expected for 2023.
The advantage with building benefits around variable copays rather than deductibles and "co-insurance" fees, Richards said, is that patients know up-front what their out-of-pocket costs will look like and how they vary at different health care providers.
"There's upfront prices," she said. "Rather than offering just estimates that might be difficult to understand or compare, Surest plans enable members to review a single all-in price for more than 490 services before receiving care."
Bind Benefits was launched by Lemhi Ventures, a Twin Cities-based venture capital fund led by serial entrepreneur Tony Miller. Some two decades ago, Miller led a Twin Cities company called Definity Health that developed high-deductible health plans; UnitedHealthcare bought that business for $300 million in 2004.
A UnitedHealthcare spokesman said Miller no longer works at Surest.
Some employees in the business still retain a minority ownership interest at Surest, Richards said. The unit does not disclose the size of its workforce, she said, but Surest employees are in all 50 states.