Oct 15, 2021 - Health

UnitedHealth thinks the worst of COVID may be over

UnitedHealth insurance membership
Data: Company filings; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

UnitedHealth Group raised its profit projections for the rest of 2021 even though the insurer covered 60,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations during the third quarter, a number that was "meaningfully above the second quarter," executives said Thursday.

Why it matters: Health insurers expected to incur higher COVID costs in the quarter after the Delta variant ran rampant over the summer, especially in states with low vaccination rates. But UnitedHealth's COVID costs fell in line with its projections and were offset by some providers delaying care again.

By the numbers: Q3 profit soared 29% to $4.1 billion. Q3 revenue increased 12% to $57 billion. Just more of the same.

  • After Wall Street analysts asked how COVID-19 would affect UnitedHealth's profits in 2022, CFO John Rex said: "We'll clearly be lower than it was in 2021 ... we also don't think it'll be nothing. I can't imagine we hit January 1, and everything ceases immediately."

The big picture: UnitedHealth's insurance division and Optum services divisions outperformed Wall Street's expectations.

  • The Q3 medical loss ratio (the percentage of insurance premiums spent on care) was 83%, lower than the expected 83.4%.
  • UnitedHealth added insurance members across all three of its major businesses, including among employers by offering new perks.
  • The company is gearing up for another Medicare Advantage sign-up period. UnitedHealth has more than doubled its MA membership over the past six years, and that program is the driving force within the company's insurance businesses.

Go deeper: UnitedHealth grows profits by being both your insurer and your doctor

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