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The largest health insurance companies in the United States reaped historically large profits in the first quarter of this year, despite all the noise surrounding the Affordable Care Act's individual marketplaces.

Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth Group — the big five for-profit insurers — cumulatively collected $4.5 billion in net earnings in the first three months of 2017. That was by far the biggest first-quarter haul for the group since the ACA exchanges went live in 2014. Other major insurers, such as the Blue Cross and Blue Shield company Health Care Service Corp., also are improving their ACA operations.

Expand chart

Aetna lost money because it had to pay Humana a $1 billion break-up fee after their merger failed; otherwise it would have been in the black. Some other things to keep in mind:

  • The ACA exchanges represent a small amount of the insurance market, and most of the for-profit carriers have bailed on those plans.
  • Employer-based coverage is a profit center, but insurers continue to invest more in Medicare Advantage and Medicaid.
  • Congress suspended the ACA's health insurance industry fee for 2017, which is creating a temporary windfall.
  • The first quarter of the year is usually good for health insurers. Deductibles are reset, leaving people on the hook for a lot of their out-of-pocket medical expenses. The fourth quarter usually is the worst, since people often reach their deductibles by the end of the year.

Go deeper

6 hours ago - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

9 hours ago - Health

AstraZeneca CEO: "We need to do an additional study" on COVID vaccine

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective its coronavirus vaccine is, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Following Phase 3 trials, Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.