Insurer UnitedHealth affirms 2010 profit guidance

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2009 4:45 PM

Managed care company UnitedHealth Group Inc. affirmed its 2010 guidance Tuesday at its annual investor conference in New York but said it expects commercial health insurance enrollment to continue to fall next year.

The Minnetonka, Minn.-based insurer affirmed its 2009 profit guidance of $3.15 per share and said it still expects to post 2010 earnings of $2.90 to $3.10 per share on revenue between $88.5 billion and $89.5 billion.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters are expecting 2009 earnings of $3.16 per share and 2010 profit of $3.08 per share on sales of $89.44 billion.

UnitedHealth expects its commercial enrollment, which consists mostly of employer-based and individual health plans, to fall by between 500,000 and 950,000 members next year. UnitedHealth and other insurers have been stung by enrollment losses as companies cut jobs in the tough economy.

UnitedHealth has reported 6 percent commercial enrollment declines in each of the past two quarters.

But the insurer said its total medical enrollment could climb by as much as 3 million members next year, thanks to new business that will provide managed care to military members and their families in the Southern U.S. The Defense Department announced last summer it was switching its contract for this business to UnitedHealth from Humana Inc.

Louisville, Ky.-based Humana is appealing the decision, and the insurers are awaiting a decision from the department.

UnitedHealth's total enrollment could increase to as much as 34.9 million with that contract. It had 31.9 million enrolled in the third quarter.

Company officials also reiterated Tuesday that they will consider offering a dividend after determining the impact on their business of a possible health care overhaul. Congress is currently debating bills that will cover the uninsured and tame health care costs but which could cost insurers some of their profits.

UnitedHealth CEO Stephen J. Hemsley said in October that his company would consider a dividend, but did not commit to one.

UnitedHealth shares rose 3 cents to close at $28.70.