UnitedHealth profit, forecast get lift from stabilizing medical costs

By Bhanvi Satija and Mariam Sunny

(Reuters) -U.S. healthcare conglomerate UnitedHealth beat analysts’ estimates for third-quarter profit on Friday, powered by lower-than-expected medical costs at its health insurance unit.

Shares of the health insurance industry bellwether rose 3% to $542.50 after it also slightly raised its annual forecast, lifting shares of rivals between 2% and 3% in early trade.

Warnings from UnitedHealth and Humana in June that older adults were getting more comfortable opting for surgeries delayed during the pandemic had caused a $60-billion wipeout in insurers’ market value on fears of a spike in medical costs.

Levels of elective surgeries remained more “stable” than the previous quarter and were still high among older adults, Chief Financial Officer John Rex said in a post-earnings call.

UnitedHealth’s third-quarter medical loss ratio, or the percentage of spend on claims versus premiums collected, was 82.3%. That compared with 83.2% in the second quarter.

Analysts had expected a ratio of 82.82%, according to LSEG data.

UnitedHealth reported its best quarter for the year, Jefferies analyst David Windley said, adding that the initial scare related to high demand for outpatient surgeries was fading.

On an adjusted basis, the company earned $6.56 per share, compared with estimates of $6.32.

Revenue from the insurance unit, the company’s largest, rose nearly 13% to $69.9 billion.

UnitedHealth raised the lower end of its full-year adjusted profit forecast for the second straight time to $24.85 per share from $24.70, while maintaining the higher end at $25.00.

Analysts were expecting an annual profit of $24.84 per share.

Humana and Elevance Health rose more than 2%, while Cigna Group and Centene gained between 2% and 3% in early trade.

(Reporting by Mariam Sunny and Bhanvi Satija in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)