UnitedHealth's (UNH) - Get Report future lies strongly with its Optum unit as the managed-care giant expects the division to account for about half of operating earnings in 2020, CEO Dave Wichmann said at a Tuesday investor conference. 

Optum has grown in scope and now encompasses a variety of businesses including pharmacy benefits and doctor-office management. According to Bloomberg, Optum in 2013 accounted for only about a quarter -- 26% -- of UnitedHealth's operating earnings. 

Wichmann told the audience at its Investor Day that UnitedHealth is a "fundamentally different company than the commercial insurance company I joined." 

He touted Optum as an avenue for patients to save money on their health plans. Optum can steer UnitedHealthcare insurance members to care providers that can save them 20% compared with similar plans, executives said. 

Meanwhile, Optum can profit from selling its own pharmacy-benefits services to other insurers. 

UnitedHealth shares took a hit Tuesday, falling 1.2% after it issued 2020 adjusted earnings guidance. 

The New York company said just before its Investor Day that it's forecasting 2020 adjusted earnings per share of between $16.25 and $16.55, with the midpoint of $16.40 missing analysts' estimates of $16.46 by 3%.

The company guided for revenue of between $260 billion and $262 billion, compared with analysts' expectation of $260.2 billion.

But UNH management usually guides conservatively. In fact, UnitedHealth has beaten adjusted-EPS estimates in each of the past eigjht  quarters and it has beaten revenue estimates in six of the past eight quarters.

UnitedHealth is a holding in Jim Cramer'sAction Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells UNH? Learn more now.