By Anna Wilde Mathews and Kimberly Chin
UnitedHealth Group Inc. boosted its 2019 earnings targets after reporting a strong first half of the year, driven by broader sales growth in premiums, products and services.
The parent of the nation's largest health insurer raised its full-year earnings outlook to between $13.95 and $14.15 a share, up from its previous forecast of $13.80 to $14.05 a share. Adjusted earnings are expected to come in between $14.70 and $14.90 a share, compared with earlier projections of $14.50 to $14.75 a share.
The company said profit for the second quarter climbed 13% from a year earlier to $3.29 billion, or $3.42 a share. Analysts polled by FactSet expected earnings of $3.28 a share.
UnitedHealth posted an adjusted profit of $3.60 a share, topping analysts' estimates of $3.45 a share. Matthew Borsch, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a note that the results beat the projections largely due to nonoperating items, including higher investment income.
The medical loss ratio for UnitedHealthcare, the insurance arm, was 83.1%, which analysts said was in line with projections but also benefited from prior period reserve development, essentially the difference between money set aside for claims and the actual costs. UnitedHealth executives said medical expenses had matched their expectations, and the company said the number was increased by the impact of a deferred health-insurance tax. The medical loss ratio represents the share of premiums paid out in claims.
Overall revenue rose 8% to $60.60 billion from a year ago. Analysts were looking for $60.55 billion. Revenue from the UnitedHealthcare segment rose 6% to $48.59 billion and sales from its Optum segment increased 13% to $28.03 billion.
During a call with analysts, UnitedHealth said it remains committed to its plan to require drug rebates to be passed to consumers in many cases, despite the Trump administration's decision to pull back a proposal affecting rebates in Medicare. Chief Executive David Wichmann said the company's rebate policy wasn't tied to the federal government's stance, and that UnitedHealth hadn't seen an impact on its commercial business from its rebate move.
The company highlighted a new deal its Optum health-services arm reached with John Muir Health, saying Optum would manage an extensive range of the California hospital system's services. Those include information technology, purchasing and analytics. During the earnings call, Eric Murphy, chief executive of OptumInsight, said it was discussing similar setups with several other hospital operators that, like John Muir, are independent community systems.
UnitedHealth also said it was moving ahead with its deployment of a personal digital-health record for its members, with the company in the process of scheduling the first 20 million to roll out.
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