UnitedHealth backs 2016 views, issues 2017 guidance

UnitedHealth is backing its 2016 financial guidance and expects growth into 2017, with earnings per share potentially reaching $9.60.

Last month, UnitedHealth executives said they were comfortable with Wall Street consensus forecasts for next year. Analysts then were projecting earnings of $9.12 per share, which implied 14 percent growth from the insurer's forecast for this year.

UnitedHealth also said in October that it was hiking its adjusted earnings forecast for 2016 to about $8 per share, which was 7 cents better than the Wall Street consensus at the time.

The company said Thursday it still expects 2016 earnings per share of $8 on an adjusted basis on revenue of more than $184 billion. That compares with the average analyst estimate of $8.02 per share on revenue of $184.13 billion.

For next year, UnitedHealth forecast adjusted income of $9.30 to $9.60 per share on revenue of $197 billion to $199 billion. Analysts expect, on average, 2017 earnings of $9.15 per share on revenue of $196.86 billion from UnitedHealth, according to FactSet.

Shares of the company rose 2.2 percent in after-hours trading to $155.50. The stock has gained 20 percent in the past 12 months.

Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. is the nation's largest health insurer. Health insurance is UnitedHealth's main business, but it also has been growing its Optum segment, which provides pharmacy benefits management and technology services and runs clinics and doctor's offices.

UnitedHealth has said it expects to be helped next year by stable medical costs, continued Optum growth and less exposure to the Affordable Care Act's public exchanges.

The insurer has said it expects to lose around $850 million this year from its ACA-compliant individual business, which is a small slice of its total operation. Next year, it plans to sell coverage on exchanges in only three states, down drastically from the 34 states it had operated in this year.

Other insurers also have struggled to develop that business.