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A conversation with UnitedHealth's William McGuire
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Bill McGuire is CEO of UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnesota. It's one of the largest companies in the state, and McGuire is the highest-paid executive in the state. (MPR file photo)

Minnetonka, Minn. — The list of Minnesota's largest companies is full of household names: Target, General Mills, Northwest Airlines, Best Buy, 3M. But right near the top, at No. 2, is one most Minnesotans don't know much about -- UnitedHealth Group.

Even though it's based in Minnesota, state law prevents UnitedHealth from selling its for-profit HMO here. But in recent years, the company has grown into a nation-leading health services company that will increasingly touch the lives of Minnesotans.

Its stock is one of the country's top performers -- it rose straight through the recent recession, and is up 50 percent in just the past year. Last week the company announced its earnings for 2004, which surprised almost no one by rising 33 percent over 2003.

UnitedHealth's CEO is Dr. Bill McGuire, who joined the company in 1988. He is the state's highest-paid corporate executive -- his salary and stock options package is in the $100 million range. McGuire has been rewarded for continuing UnitedHealth's strong growth, but some have questioned his high salary at a time when health insurance is becoming more expensive and harder to come by.

While 2004 was a very good year for UnitedHealth, the company is also optimistic about 2005, recently boosting its earning predictions.

Piper Jaffray analyst Ryan Stewart says UnitedHealth has moved beyond making money by managing or insuring health care, to streamlining the way businesses and doctors handle health information. That has let it grab business in markets such as Minnesota and some East Coast states that prohibit for-profit managed care companies, because UnitedHealth manages some of the functions of nonprofit providers.

"This is an information business," Stewart said.

UnitedHealth now covers 53.8 million people, either through medical insurance or through insurance programs it manages for other companies, the company said.

MPR's Jeff Horwich met with William McGuire at UnitedHealth's headquarters in Minnetonka, to talk about the company, his role there, and the changing health care industry.

To listen to their interview, choose the audio link in the right column.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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