Steward Health Care explores selling to Optum

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

By Haley Clough

Steward Health Care, based in Dallas, plans to sell to hospital operator Optum in order to secure financial security after a period of economic difficulty. Optum, which is a branch of UnitedHealth Group, would absorb a Steward affiliate including the company’s primary care providers across nine states, according to documents filed with the state.

Gov. Maura Healey’s administration has kept a close watch on Steward’s Massachusetts hospitals after the company revealed severe financial troubles and the possibility of closing eight of the nine hospitals affiliated with Steward statewide. 

David Seltz, the executive director of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC), told he and his team intend on “rigorous, data-driven oversight of health care market changes to bring important information to the public.” The sale between Steward and Optum cannot go through until the HPC and other state or federal antitrust organizations review the planned transaction. The HPC will have 30 days to assess the deal once all details of the sale are confirmed. 

Major concerns regarding the possible deal pertain to patient accessibility, affordability, and quality of care. In a press conference last week, Sen. Edward Markey discussed the unique responsibility of for-profit medical companies, which is to understand the immediate impact of their decisions on real people. Markey said he hopes Optum “[lives] up to that responsibility by controlling costs and putting patients and providers first.” 

In early 2024, news outlets reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating the UnitedHealth Group. According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, the DOJ was “examining Optum’s acquisitions of doctor groups and how the ownership of physician and health-plan units affects competition”.