UnitedHealth CEO to step down after run of more than decade

UnitedHealth Group has picked company President David Wichmann to replace CEO Stephen Hemsley in a long-planned transition that Wall Street greeted with polite applause.

The nation’s largest health insurer says Wichmann, 54, will take over Sept. 1, and Hemsley will become executive chairman of the company’s board. Current Chairman Richard Burke will shift to lead independent director.

Wichmann, a former partner with Arthur Andersen, joined UnitedHealth in 1998, a year after Hemsley arrived, and has worked through several key executive roles. He has overseen the company’s largest business, its health benefits segment, since 2014. Wichmann also has led mergers and acquisitions as the insurer pushed well beyond processing doctor bills and delved deeper into other elements of patient care.

The leadership transition announced Wednesday had been underway for years and dates back to Wichmann’s appointment as president in 2014, according to a company spokesman.

Hemsley said in a statement that the timing was right, “as the company is performing strongly and has a positive outlook for the forseeable future.”

UnitedHealth is coming off a second quarter in which it made $2.28 billion and raised its forecast for 2017, a year in which analysts who follow the company expect it to bring in around $200 billion in revenue.

Wednesday’s announcement generated little surprise among those analysts.

Sheryl Skolnick said in a research note that she was “very comfortable” with the change because Hemsley will still have an important role. The Mizuho Securities USA analyst also noted that Burke, one of the company’s founders, will remain involved, “so the guardians of the (UnitedHealth) galaxy are firmly in place.”

Health insurance is UnitedHealth’s main business, but the company also has been plowing more resources into its Optum business, which provides pharmacy benefits management and technology services and also operates clinics and doctor’s offices.

It acquired the pharmacy benefits manager Catamaran a few years ago in a deal valued at more than $12 billion. More recently, UnitedHealth spent about $2.3 billion to buy surgery center operator Surgical Care Affiliates.

The 65-year-old Hemsley is by far the longest-serving CEO among major health insurers. His tenure began in 2006, when he took over after the previous leader, William McGuire, was forced to leave over a scandal involving the backdating of company stock options.

UnitedHealth wound up wiping out more than $1.5 billion in past profits when it acknowledged that it backdated stock options, which involves manipulating the timing of options grants so they look as though they …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

US teen drug overdose deaths inch up after years of decline

NEW YORK (AP) After years of decline, teen deaths from drug overdoses have inched up, a new U.S. government report shows.

The drop in teen deaths had been a rare bright spot in the opioid epidemic that has seen adult overdose deaths surge year after year fueled by abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin and newer drugs like fentanyl.

“This is a warning sign that we need to keep paying attention to what’s happening with young people,” said Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University expert on drug abuse issues who wasn’t part of the study.

It’s not clear why teen overdose deaths increased in 2015 or whether the trend will continue, said lead researcher Sally Curtin of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC released the report Wednesday focusing on adolescents aged 15 to 19.

The overdose death rate rose to 3.7 per 100,000 teens in 2015, from 3.1 the previous year. Most of the deaths were accidental and were mainly caused by heroin, researchers found.

Clearly, drug overdoses have been a far smaller problem in teens than in adults. Tens of thousands of adults die from overdoses each year compared to about 700 to 800 teens.

Another difference: Unlike adults, overdose deaths in teens have not been climbing every year.

To their surprise, CDC researchers found that teen overdose deaths actually fell after 2008, and dropped as low as about 3 per 100,000 during 2012 through 2014.

The drop tracks with previously reported declines in teen drug use, smoking, drinking, sex and other risky behaviors, Keyes said. Some experts believe those declines are related to more time spent on smartphones and social media.

The decline was driven by boys, who account for about two-thirds of teen overdose deaths. The boys’ rate fell by a third in those years, but the girls’ rate held fairly steady.

Then came the increase. The rate among boys rose to 4.6 per 100,000 in 2015 from 4 the year before. Among girls, it increased to 2.7 from 2.2. Though small, it was the highest overdose death rate for girls since at least 1979, Curtin said.

Health expert said it’s likely teen overdoses edged up in 2015 because of the increasing availability of newer and more lethal kinds of opioids like fentanyl, which is sometimes mixed with heroin.

“If the drugs are more potent, your chances of it (drug use) being fatal have perhaps increased,” Curtin said.

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Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

Sierra Leone prepares for mass funerals after mudslides

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) Sierra Leone’s government urged family members to come to the capital’s overwhelmed mortuary Wednesday to identify their loved one’s remains as the country prepared to bury hundreds of mudslide and flood victims.

Meanwhile, crews continued the grim work of extracting bodies from debris after fierce storms left impoverished, low-lying areas of Freetown buried in mud from the city’s hilltops.

More than 300 people are confirmed dead a third of them children and Red Cross officials estimate some 600 others remain missing 48 hours after the storm hit.

President Ernest Bai Koroma’s office asked relatives to come to the city’s morgue Wednesday, saying that all unidentified corpses will be given a “dignified burial” in the coming days.

Volunteers have been digging with pick axes and at times only their hands.

Brima Mundeh, 40, fears that three of his missing family members are buried under the mud unleashed by the storm at 6:30 a.m. Monday. Three more relatives are already confirmed dead though he did manage to escape with his two children.

“I can’t describe the magic that took me and my family out of my house . but I believe it’s the work of God ’cause I don’t know where the strength and power came from to get us out.”

Associated Press journalist Alhaji Manika Kamara in Freetown contributed.

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Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News