CVS' Lynch: Aetna planning to reenter ACA exchanges in 2022

Aetna is planning to reenter the Affordable Care Act exchanges, executives told investors Tuesday.

Karen Lynch, CEO of Aetna's parent company CVS Health, said that the insurer is targeting Jan. 1, 2022, for returning to the exchanges with plans. She said to expect additional updates on the company's plans in the coming months.

"It is now time for us to participate in these markets," she said on CVS' earnings call Tuesday morning. "We will show that we can bring great value to those who seek coverage."

She said that the timing made sense to return to the exchanges, as the individual market stabilized and represented a more thriving market.

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Aetna fully pulled out of the exchanges in 2018 following significant losses in its exchange plans, a challenge that plagued many insurers in the market.

A stabilized market, however, has lured these companies to return. UnitedHealthcare, for instance, expanded its reach for the 2021 plan year after significantly scaling back its footprint in the exchanges in 2016.

CVS Health brought in $973 million in profit for the fourth quarter of 2020, a decline of 44% from the prior-year quarter.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, CVS earned $1.7 billion in profit, according to the company's earnings report released Tuesday morning.

Despite the profit decrease, the earnings figure surpassed Wall Street analysts' expectations.

The healthcare giant also beat the Street on revenue for the quarter, bringing in $69.6 billion. That's up by $2.7 billion from the fourth quarter of 2019, when the company earned $66.9 billion, or an increase of 4%.

CVS' results echo its industry peers, which also reported declining gains—or even losses—as the coronavirus pandemic's financial impacts came fully to bear.

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"The COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges to our business and to the entire health care industry. We utilized the full depth and breadth of our capabilities and our presence in local communities across the country, to play a leadership role in COVID-19 testing and vaccine administration," Lynch said in a statement. 

"Our ability to deliver 2020 full-year results above expectations is a testament to the strength of our strategy and the flexibility of our diversified health services model," she said.

For full-year 2020, CVS Health earned $7.2 billion in profit and $268.7 billion in revenue. Those profits were up 8.5% from $6.6 billion in 2019, and revenues were up about 4.6% from $256.8 billion in 2019.

For 2021, CVS projects earnings per share of between $7.39 and $7.55 and cash flow from operations of between $12 billion and $12.5 billion.