UnitedHealth Group walked a fine line before Wall Street investors Tuesday, predicting lower profit in 2011, in part due to federal health reform, while at the same time painting itself as well-positioned for the changes reform will bring.
Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth, the country's biggest health insurer by revenue, projected higher revenue but lower profit next year. The company expects revenue of between $99 billion and $100 billion next year, translating to net earnings per share of $3.50 to $3.70.
The company affirmed its 2010 outlook of $3.85 to $3.95 per share.
Chief executive Stephen Hemsley, speaking at UnitedHealth's investor conference in New York, called the 2011 outlook "appropriately measured."
The company's closely watched medical loss ratio, or the portion of premiums spent on medical care, is expected to rise to 82.7 percent in 2011 versus an estimated 81.1 percent in 2010. Among other things, the federal health law requires insurers to spend a minimum amount on medical costs and keep less as profit.
But officials also said the company's scale and the breadth of its businesses would help it thrive even in a more heavily regulated environment. The company expects to add half a million new customers by the end of 2011 in both its commercial and government benefits businesses.
Executives appeared particularly upbeat about UnitedHealth's health services businesses, which include data and technology consulting and care management. They showcased efforts to get health information to consumers on their computers and mobile phones, and highlighted a recent partnership with Walgreens in which pharmacists help manage prescriptions for diabetics.
"Our health services businesses are market leaders in a market that is still forming," chief financial officer Mike Mikan said.
CHEN MAY YEE