UnitedHealth Profit Climbs on Enrollment and Optum Boosts

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the biggest U.S. health insurer, said earnings rose 15 percent, boosted by growth in its Optum technology business as well as enrollment gains.

INN Breaking News, January 16, 2014

Alex Nussbaum

(Bloomberg) -- UnitedHealth Group Inc., the biggest U.S. health insurer, said earnings rose 15 percent, boosted by growth in its Optum technology business as well as enrollment gains. The company reaffirmed its 2014 forecast.

Fourth-quarter net income climbed to $1.43 billion, or $1.41 a share, matching analysts’ estimates, the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company said in a statement today. Revenue climbed 8.2 percent to $31.1 billion, the insurer said.

UnitedHealth has limited sales on the insurance exchanges set up by the U.S. health law known as Obamacare. Instead, it’s been buoyed by growth in employer and government-funded insurance plans as well as Optum, its technology and consulting unit for hospitals, employers and other clients. Revenue from that business jumped 35 percent to $10.2 billion in the quarter.

“We have long predicted that the power of Optum to transform health-care processes and services both within United and externally would become the growth driver,” said Sheryl Skolnick, an analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based CRT Capital Group, in a note to clients. “This quarter and year confirms and bolsters that view.”

The company rose 1.1 percent to $75.70 at 7:29 a.m. in New York trading yesterday. Its shares have gained 40 percent in the 12 months ending yesterday.

Optum’s earnings from operations surged 43 percent in the quarter, dwarfing gains from the larger benefits business. The technology unit gained attention last year after it was hired as a general contractor to help fix the software problems plaguing healthcare.gov, the federal Obamacare exchange.

Enrollment Rise

Enrollment in medical plans climbed 11 percent to 45.5 million, with gains coming from a new benefits contract for the U.S. military and Medicare and Medicaid, government-funded programs for elderly and low-income Americans. Medical costs remained “well-controlled,” with hospital inpatient claims falling for the fifth straight year in 2013, UnitedHealth said.

Higher earnings haven’t always translated into stock gains for the company. In October, UnitedHealthalso reported increased earnings and maintained its profit outlook. The shares tumbled 5.1 percent, as analysts said the results had left investors underwhelmed.

UnitedHealth reaffirmed its 2014 earnings forecast of $5.40 to $5.60 a share, compared with $5.50 a share for last year. Net income in 2012’s fourth quarter was $1.24 billion, or $1.20 a share.

Taxes, Cuts

The insurer has said it’ll be harder to increase profit this year because of new taxes and Medicare cuts required by the health law, officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. At an investor conference last month, UnitedHealth said it expects after-tax earnings in its insurance division to fall by $1.1 billion this year due to the law.

For investors, “the key topic today” will be how the Medicare cuts may affect profits next year, said Carl McDonald, a Citigroup analyst based in New York. “The industry is lobbying to mitigate those cuts, but it would be useful to understand the 2015 impact if the cuts are implemented as proposed,” he wrote in a note to clients.

WellPoint Inc., the second-biggest U.S. health insurer, is due to report earnings on Jan. 29.

Get access to this article and thousands more...

All Insurance Networking News articles are archived after 7 days. REGISTER NOW for unlimited access to all recently archived articles, as well as thousands of searchable stories. Registered Members also gain access to exclusive industry white paper downloads, web seminars, podcasts, e-books, and conference discounts. Qualified members may also choose to receive our free monthly magazine and any of our e-newsletters covering the latest breaking news, opinions from industry leaders and developing trends.

Already Registered?

Advertisement

Free Site Registration

Advertisement