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Hospitals workers care for a COVID-19 patient. Photo: Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 has affected each health insurance company differently, but the industry remains mostly insulated from the virus' growing toll.

The big picture: Most of the big insurers have sidestepped massive coronavirus-related costs so far this year, due in large part to people putting off other care. And the companies that have had to pay more medical claims are raising premiums on employers and consumers, exactly as they said they would.

Driving the news: Health insurers were very focused during the third quarter on their medical loss ratios, or the percentage of premiums that are paid toward health care services and drugs.

  • UnitedHealth: Medical claims came in lower than expected, and the company believes the worst of COVID may be over.
  • Anthem: Similar to UnitedHealth, Anthem's MLR was lower than predicted. Higher COVID costs during August's surge were more than offset by people deferring other types of care.
  • CVS Health: Medical expenses were higher than expected, but CVS expects its Aetna plans will bounce back in 2022 with fewer COVID costs, and with profitability expected to remain high.
  • Cigna: COVID costs were higher in employer plans, and people in Cigna's Affordable Care Act plans also were sicker than expected. However, the insurer is raising premiums on some plans next year to maintain higher profits, even if it means losing some members. As Cigna CEO David Cordani told investors on an earnings call yesterday, "We are willing to make targeted tradeoffs."
  • Humana: Its Medicare Advantage members continued to delay care, which offset COVID costs, but the difference was not as much as Humana expected, which led to Humana lowering its profit this year. However, the company maintained its initial profit projections for next year, showing it doesn't believe COVID will be a major factor on its finances.
  • Centene: Medical expenses were in line with Wall Street's forecasts.
  • Molina: ACA plan members got a lot more care than expected, but Molina's overall MLR tracked with industry estimates.

Keep in mind: Most large employers pay their own medical claims and use insurers as claims administrators.

  • That means employers are capturing savings if the amount of deferred care from their workers is outpacing workers' COVID costs.

The bottom line: Health insurers remain significantly more profitable today than they were before the pandemic, even after factoring in COVID costs.

Go deeper

Dec 7, 2021 - Health

Report: COVID exacerbated young people's "unprecedented" mental health challenges

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy speaks during a press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 15. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. surgeon general warned on Tuesday young people face "unprecedented" mental health challenges — and the pandemic has only made matters worse.

Why it matters: Depression, suicidal ideation and emergency room visits for mental health reasons have risen significantly in young people, according to the 53-page advisory from the country's top physician, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy.

Updated Dec 7, 2021 - Health

CDC: 60% of U.S. is fully vaccinated

Photo: Nick Oxford/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sixty percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: This comes as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the U.S. It has been detected in 19 states, and the number is expected to increase, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during Tuesday's White House COVID-19 briefing.

Judge temporarily blocks Biden vaccine mandate for federal contractors

Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked President Biden's vaccine mandate for federal contractors nationwide.

Why it matters: It's the latest setback in the Biden administration's rollout of COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Federal judges in two states temporarily barred the administration from enforcing mandates for millions of workers last week.