Aetna, Anthem reassure investors on forecast, exchanges

Author: the associated press

Two of the nation’s three largest health insurers are trying to ease investor and customer concerns a day after their biggest competitor questioned its future on the Affordable Care Act’s public insurance exchanges.

Aetna Inc. and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem Inc. each reaffirmed on Friday their 2015 earnings forecasts. They also said their commercial business has developed as expected through October. That includes insurance sold on the exchanges, a key component in the ACA’s push to expand insurance coverage.

Their announcements came a day after UnitedHealth Group cut its 2015 forecast due to losses piling up from coverage solid on the exchanges, which let people buy insurance with help from income-based tax credits. The insurer said it was scaling back its marketing for coverage that starts in 2016, and it will decide next year whether to stay in the exchange business in 2017.

Leaders of UnitedHealth had just said last month that they expected the exchanges to mature into a strong growth market. The company said it would expand into 11 more exchanges next year after growing from four to 24 in 2015.

Since then, the insurer says financial hits from that business have come into clearer focus. UnitedHealth has been hurt in particular by customers who signed up for coverage outside the open enrollment window and use more health care in general than those who bought coverage during open enrollment.

Insurers in many markets have struggled to find the right mix of healthy customers to balance the sicker ones since the new market of public insurance exchanges opened for business in the fall of 2013. Patients with medical needs who had not been able to find coverage were more likely to enroll first in these exchanges, ahead of healthy patients who would contribute premium payments but not use as much health care.

Aetna said last month that the exchanges remain a good market, even though enrollment fell 11 percent to about 814,000 people in the third quarter. The insurer said Friday it still expects 2015 operating earnings of $7.45 to $7.55 per share.

Anthem, which recent reaffirmed its forecast, said again on Friday that it expects adjusted earnings ranging between $10.10 and $10.20 per share.

Analysts forecast, on average, 2015 earnings of $7.55 per share for Aetna and $10.20 per share for Anthem.

The announcements from all three insurers come as customers visit the online exchanges to compare plans and shop for coverage that starts next year. The annual enrollment window for the exchanges opened Nov. 1.

Shares of Aetna Inc. climbed 4 percent, or $4.06 to $104.01 in midday trading Friday, while Anthem Inc. stock was up more than 2 percent, or $2.83, to $130.67. UnitedHealth climbed 2.5 percent, or $2.80, to $113.43.

Shares of all three tumbled Thursday after UnitedHealth’s announcement.

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