UnitedHealth Group sees profit jump 31 percent, boosts outlook

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The nation's largest health insurer said net earnings for the first quarter rose to $2.84 billion, or $2.87 per share, from $2.17 billion, or $2.23 per share, a year earlier.

UnitedHealth Group's fast-growing Optum division for health care services saw earnings grow at a faster rate than the legacy health insurance business. Other insurers are playing catch-up.

As Reuters reports, investors had been concerned that UnitedHealth's first-quarter results would be hurt by the bad flu season, which raised insurer costs as more patients visited doctors and were admitted to the hospital. The insurer also picked up Surgical Care Affiliates, an operator of ambulatory surgery centers, and MedExpress, an operator of urgent-care clinics, in recent years. Optum has grown in part through acquisitions, including the purchase of DaVita's medical unit for $4.9 billion in December. Optum also launched a $600 million venture capital arm late past year to invest healthcare technology and analytics companies.

In a change announced in March, Optum CEO Larry Renfro will lead UnitedHealth Group's enterprise growth efforts and Optum's investment initiatives through Optum Ventures. "We look very different today than five years ago".

"Within 10 years, we expect half of all Americans will be receiving their healthcare from physicians operating in highly evolved and coordinated value-based care designs", Wichmann said.

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Optum earnings from operations were $1.7 billion, up from $1.3 billion, a 29.2 percent increase, with double-digit increases for every business segment.

The company raised its full-year adjusted earnings forecast to a range of $12.40 to $12.65 per share from a range of $12.30 to $12.60 per share. Revenue growth was driven by higher premiums and enrollment, particularly in Medicare Advantage. United served 375,000 more seniors in the first quarter, including 330,000 in MA plans, which saw 10.6% increase over the first quarter of past year.

Its total public and senior member population increased to 15.9 million members, where more than 1 million members were added year-over-year. This helped grow overall revenues for the segment by 13.3 percent year over year to $45.5 billion.

OptumRx fulfilled 332 million scripts during the first quarter, a 3.1 percent increase, with a favorable mix of specialty pharmacy and home delivery services. Enrollment increased by 2.4 million members, or 5.2%, to 48.9 million as of March 31.

UnitedHealth's medical care ratio, or the percentage of premiums paid out for medical services, improved to 81.4 percent from 82.4 percent a year earlier.

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