Tucson landed a new 400-job health-care customer-service center because of its climate - for doing business as well as enjoying the sunshine.
"Tucson certainly has a lot to offer any business," OptumRx CEO Dirk McMahon told a crowd gathered outdoors under sunny skies at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park, where OptumRx plans to open a new drug-benefits center this summer.
He cited a strong local workforce, a robust health-care market, supportive local government officials and a fine quality of life including "great weather."
"I'm not used to speaking outside at all - I'm from Minnesota," McMahon joked.
Whether McMahon's view will change if he visits in June, when the new center is slated to be ready for occupancy, remains to be seen.
But on Thursday, officials of OptumRx and parent UnitedHealth Group were all smiles, along with state and local officials who welcomed the company.
"These are good jobs, in a growing field," Gov. Jan Brewer said, applauding state and local officials for their work in landing OptumRx. "It takes a team effort with everyone rowing in the same direction to help turn this economy around."
Growth is the key focus for OptumRx, which has nine months to prepare for a near doubling of its pharmacy-benefits management business.
OptumRx is ramping up to handle an influx of some 12 million new customers nationwide at the start of 2013, as UnitedHealth takes its services in-house when its contract with major pharmacy-benefits manager Medco Health Solutions Inc. expires.
In addition to opening new customer-service operations, OptumRx is expanding existing centers, including the addition of some 600 jobs at a major pharmacy services and mail-service drug center in Overland Park, Kan.
Nine months in the making, the deal to bring OptumRx to Tucson came with a conditional $200,000 state grant from Arizona Competes, a deal-closing fund administered by the Arizona Commerce Authority.
OptumRx isn't getting the money upfront, though. To qualify for the full award, the company must employ 400 workers for five years, McMahon said.
The company isn't saying how much it's investing in starting up the Tucson operation.
Besides the "in-sourcing" of UnitedHealth pharmacy management operations, OptumRx - a major provider of Medicare drug plans - is expecting rapid growth in that business as the number of Medicare-eligible Americans is projected to grow from about 41 million now to 54 million by 2020.
While Tucson will play an important part as OptumRx grows, the state already has strong ties to UnitedHealth. Overall, the company employs some 2,800 people in the state, mainly in the Phoenix area, and provides services to 1.3 million Arizona residents.
Minnesota-based UnitedHealth and its affiliated companies have been a strong supporter of the UA's top-tier College of Pharmacy, McMahon said, noting that the company has helped sponsor a campus health fair.
OptumRx also is a supporter of "Pharmacy is Right for Me" (pharmacyforme.org), an effort with the American Pharmacists Association to promote pharmacy careers to high school students, McMahon noted.
Stephen Hemsley, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, said the company is glad to expand its presence in Arizona and in Tucson, in particular. "Businesses build and grow here and become part of the community," he said.
He noted that UnitedHealth is involved with Tucson Medical Center in a new kind of health-care model, known as an accountable-care organization or ACO.
Promoted in the federal health-care reform law passed in 2010, ACOs are collaborations among health-care providers intended to better coordinate care and keep patients healthier to avoid major health problems and their associated costs.
The Southern Arizona ACO, Arizona Connected Care, is expected to launch next month, with TMC and other hospitals including El Rio Community Health Center, Mariposa Community Health Center and Marana Healthcare Center, as well as more than 150 local physicians.
Optum, the UnitedHealth division that includes OptumRx, will provide technology and management services for the venture.
How to apply
OptumRx will begin hiring sometime in the second half of the year for positions at a customer-service center at the UA Science and Technology Park. The center, at 9040 S. Rita Road, is set to open in June.
To find job postings or to apply for jobs at any UnitedHealth Group company, go to careers.unitedhealthgroup.com
To search specifically for jobs at OptumRx, go to tinyurl.com/86sgenb
Contact David Wichner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4181.