Pending state Insurance Department approval, UnitedHealthcare will begin selling medical coverage to small and mid-sized clients in North Dakota this fall.

“Prior to our expansion we did have some coverage through national relationships,” said Philip Kaufman, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. “But we’ve never directly sold to small businesses in North Dakota.”

UnitedHealthcare currently has more than 26,000 members in North Dakota who get their insurance through employers based out of state. More than 700 companies with a national presence, like chain retailers, buy coverage for their North Dakota employees from UnitedHealthcare.

Kaufman said it was at the urging of those clients, who wanted a more local health insurance presence and direct provider network for their employees, that UnitedHealthcare expanded here. The move comes on the heels of an expansion into Minnesota earlier this summer.

“We view North Dakota as having a growing footprint,” he also said, citing the state’s population expansion in recent years.

UnitedHealthcare will market traditional medical plans, Health Savings Account compliant plans, plans with low out-of-pocket costs, virtual visits and urgent care coverage.

The insurance provider is also working with local healthcare providers and hospitals, such as Avera Health and Sanford Health.

Kaufman said the company would also like to offer Medicare options in in 2020. It has no plans to enter the individual marketplace in the state at this time.

Kaufman thinks UnitedHealthcare, by bringing more competition into the market, will “help everyone” by controlling premiums and driving innovation.

He said one such innovation UnitedHealthcare offers is called “Motion,” an application that integrates with fitness counters to help users meet health goals beyond just taking a set number of steps - moving around at least four times a day for example. Meeting those goals adds money to a users Health Savings Account as an incentive.

“People really like it,” Kaufman said.

North Dakota Insurance Department spokeswoman Ashley Kelsch said the department is in the rate review process currently, expecting to wrap up the process by the end of the month.

Kelsch said she did not have the number of other health insurance companies authorized to sell their products to employers in North Dakota.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com