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Optum CEO Takes Leave of Absence to Co-lead WHO COVID-19 Vaccine Effort

Analysis  |  By Jack O'Brien  
   April 15, 2020

UnitedHealth Group also released its Q1 2020 earnings report, though these metrics were recorded largely before the coronavirus outbreak.

Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of Optum and president of UnitedHealth Group, is taking a leave of absence starting next week to co-lead the World Health Organization's (WHO) efforts to develop a vaccine to combat the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the company announced Wednesday morning.

Witty, who has led Optum since March 2018 and was appointed president of UnitedHealth in November 2019, will start his temporary assignment with WHO on April 20. David Wichmann, CEO of UnitedHealth, will fill Witty's position during his absence. 

Prior to joining UnitedHealth, Witty served as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, a London-based drugmaker, from 2008 to 2017.

Related: Optum CEO Named President of UnitedHealth Group

"I am deeply honored to help lead this mission to seek a COVID-19 vaccine and am confident the people of Optum will remain relentless in their work to help their customers, communities and each other each day," Witty said in a statement. "I look forward to rejoining them on the other side of this crisis to continue helping make the health system work better for everyone."

The Minnetonka, Minnesota–based insurer also released its Q1 2020 earnings report, though these metrics were recorded largely before the coronavirus outbreak.

UnitedHealth stated that it is maintaining its full year earnings guidance, projecting net earnings of $15.45 to $15.75 per share along with adjusted net earnings of $16.25 to $16.55 per share.

"As the year progresses, the company will continue to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 across its balanced and diversified businesses," the company stated in a press release.

Related: UnitedHealth Group to Roll Out Coronavirus Test to 46,000 Doctors

Moody's Investors Service weighed in with a comment on UnitedHealth's Q1 earnings Wednesday afternoon.

"UnitedHealth Group reported solid revenue and earnings growth for the first quarter and, as we expected, there was limited impact on medical costs from the coronavirus pandemic given the timing of the outbreak and reduced elective procedures," Stefan Kahandaliyanage, assistant vice president at Moody's, said in a statement. "We expect medical costs to be elevated in the second half as elective procedures return, but capacity constraints, prioritization of higher risk patients and increased use of telehealth should help buffer medical costs for 2020. While debt-to-capital rose materially to 47% from 42% at year-end 2019 due to a short-term liquidity raise, we expect leverage to decline as financial markets normalize."

For complete financial information, review UnitedHealth's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include commentary from Moody's Investors Service.

Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: KIEV, UKRAINE - Dec 10, 2018: UnitedHealth Group Managed care company logo seen displayed on smart phone. - Image / Editorial credit: IgorGolovniov /

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