UnitedHealth 2Q earnings surge 30 pct, forecast climbs

By TOM MURPHY Markets Associated Press

UnitedHealth Group's second-quarter earnings jumped 30 percent, pushed in part by growth in the company's Optum business, and the nation's largest insurer raised its 2017 forecast again.

Continue Reading Below

The company, based just outside Minneapolis, said Tuesday that it now expects 2017 adjusted earnings of between $9.75 and $9.90 per share. That's up from a forecast of $9.65 to $9.85 it made in April.

Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting earnings of $9.80 per share this year.

Health insurance is UnitedHealth's main business, but it has been focusing more on growing its Optum segment, which provides pharmacy benefits management and technology services and also operates clinics and doctor's offices. Operating earnings from that business grew nearly 21 percent in the quarter to $1.5 billion.

The insurer also saw revenue jump 17 percent or $2.5 billion in its Medicare and retirement business, which more than offset a top-line hit the insurer took by withdrawing from nearly all of its Affordable Care Act insurance exchange marketplaces this year.

UnitedHealth had expanded quickly into the state-based insurance exchanges, which let people shop for coverage and buy it with help from an income-based tax credit. But the insurer also retreated quickly after reporting in last year's second quarter that its losses from that coverage, a small part of its business, came in $200 million above projections.

Continue Reading Below

It is selling coverage on exchanges in only three states this year, down from 34 last year.

Health insurers, in general, have struggled to make money off the exchanges, which are expected to give consumers fewer choices and higher prices in many parts of the country when 2018 enrollment starts this fall. A Republican push to replace the Affordable Care Act imploded this week in the Senate.

Overall, UnitedHealth's earnings climbed to $2.28 billion in the second quarter, with adjusted earnings totaling $2.46 per share. Total revenue rose nearly 8 percent to $50.05 billion.

Analysts expected earnings of $2.38 per share on $50.03 billion in revenue.

The insurer's total enrollment climbed 3 percent compared to last year's quarter, up to more than 49 million people.

UnitedHealth is the first health insurer to announce earnings every quarter. Many analysts and investors see it as a bellwether for other insurers.