UnitedHealth profit falls as government tightens payments

UnitedHealth Group Inc , the largest U.S. health insurer, said on Thursday that its first-quarter profit had fallen, in part because of lower government payments for its private Medicare services and prescription plans for older Americans.

The company said net profit was $1.2 billion, or $1.16 per share, down from $1.4 billion, or $1.31 per share, a year-earlier.

Analysts on average had been expecting earnings of $1.14 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

For the year, UnitedHealth said it still expected earnings of $5.25 to $5.50 per share, including the effects of the government sequestration. Its outlook was unchanged but previously did not account for those across-the-board spending cuts. Analysts are expecting earnings of $5.52 per share in 2013.

Revenue rose to $30.3 billion from $27.3 billion a year earlier, helped by membership growth.

UnitedHealth said that in the first-quarter it converted a large public-sector customer to risk-based insurance from fee-based benefits, which will reduce 2013 revenue expectations by $2.5 billion to $122 billion.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)