UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurer, reported… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
UnitedHealth Group Inc. reported solid second-quarter results and raised its full-year profit outlook, but shares slipped in midday trading after the company projected a tough rate environment for its Medicare and Medicaid plans.
Shares of the nation's largest health insurer dropped $1.78, or 3.2%, to $54.57 in midday trading.
In a conference call with analysts and investors, UnitedHealth Chief Executive Stephen Hemsley said he continues to see "more downward than upward pressure" across the healthcare market.
The company said second-quarter earnings grew 5.5%, aided by enrollment gains and the continued trend of stable medical costs.
The Minnetonka, Minn., company said it earned $1.34 billion in the quarter, or $1.27 a share, compared with $1.27 billion, or $1.16 a share, in the same period a year ago. UnitedHealth said revenue in the quarter ended June 30 grew 8% to $27.3 billion.
The company is the first major health insurer to report second-quarter results and it's considered an industry bellwether as rivals such as WellPoint Inc. and Aetna Inc. report later this month.
The company boosted its full-year profit estimate to a range of $4.90 to $5 a share, up from $4.80 to $4.95 a share earlier.
Analysts were encouraged by UnitedHealth's outlook for medical cost trends to remain stable. The company said it expects a modest rise in the second half of this year.
Patients cutting back on medical care and other elective procedures during the recession has helped boost the bottom line for many insurers in recent quarters.
Earlier this month, federal officials rejected a rival's appeal and upheld a government contract for UnitedHealth to serve nearly 3 million active and retired military personnel and their families starting next year.
Industrywide, insurers have been pursuing more business through government health programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, as commercial enrollment slowed. In the second quarter, UnitedHealth said it added 210,000 Medicaid members nationwide.
WellPoint, the nation's second-biggest health insurer, made an aggressive move last week by agreeing to acquire Medicaid insurer Amerigroup Corp. for $4.9 billion.
Even with the Supreme Court recently giving states more leeway on the federal government's planned expansion of Medicaid, analysts still expect insurers to gain considerable new business as millions of newly insured low-income people are added to the rolls.