UnitedHealthcare will announce Wednesday that it plans to hire 335 people in the Baltimore area as it enhances services to Medicare beneficiaries.

The jobs will support the insurers' recently acquired XLHealth division, which provides Medicare health plans to underserved and chronically ill patients. The insurer, which employs about 2,700 at UnitedHealthcare and 556 at XLHealth, will increase its Maryland workforce by about 10 percent.

UnitedHealthcare, the second largest insurer in Maryland, closed on an acquisition of Baltimore-based XLHealth in an all-cash deal in February. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

"Adding to our workforce here in Baltimore means that many more Medicare beneficiaries will benefit from UnitedHealthcare's innovative models of care, which supports our broader mission to help people live healthier lives, and make the health care system work better for everyone," saidStephen J. Hemsley, UnitedHealth Group president and CEO.

The hires reflect an overall trend in the industry to move toward preventive care and treating conditions before they become more advanced — and more costly. Ninety-nine percent of Medicare spending is on people with at least one chronic condition and 98 percent involves people with multiple chronic conditions. Two-thirds of Medicare spending is for people with five or more chronic conditions.

About 250 of UnitedHealthcare's new employees will work in the insurer's HouseCalls program, which uses outreach workers to assess health conditions of Medicare beneficiaries at their homes and help catch undiagnosed conditions and other problems. For instance, a nurse practitioner may visit a diabetes patient at home and determine whether there's protein in the person's urine. The practitioner would inform the doctor, who may then test for diabetic kidney disease.

"HouseCalls can help address gaps in care and catch potential concerns before they become serious," said Paul Serini, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement chief government relations officer.

The other new employees will work in a pharmacy counseling program that aims to help patients understand their prescription drug regimen and make sure they are correctly taking their medication. It also helps patients who need help finding programs to help pay for their medications.

United Healthcare will announce the new jobs at XLHealth offices at Camden Yards. Gov.Martin O'Malley will take part in the event.

"We are pleased that UnitedHealthcare is upholding our tradition of being a leader in health care innovation," O'Malley said in a statement. "UnitedHealthcare's investment in Maryland underscores that this is an attractive place for businesses to expand, and that partnerships between the federal government, state government and local business will drive health care innovation and better quality care for the nation's Medicare beneficiaries."

The jobs will include a mix of clinical and nonclinical, as well as management positions. New employees will work from Camden Yards and a second building the insurer is opening at a business park in Elkridge.

UnitedHealthcare serves more than 780,000 Marylanders and has a network of 65 hospitals in the state.

XLHealth serves recipients through Medicare Advantage plans, which are run by private insurers but funded by the federal Medicare program.

In announcing the acquisition by UnitedHealthcare, XLHealth said it expected to grow rapidly in 2012, expanding to several more states and bringing in revenue of more than $2 billion.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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