UnitedHealth profits rise 21% with growing membership

UnitedHealth's fourth-quarter profits jumped 21 percent to $1.26 billion, primarily due to increased membership.

The insurer's fourth-quarter revenue increased 7.9 percent to $25.9 billion, while its yearly profits increased 5 percent over 2010 with $5.1 billion in earnings. Revenue hit $102 billion, an 8 percent increase, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

UnitedHealth's membership rose 5 percent to about 34.6 million with about 175,000 new members mostly joining its Medicare and Medicaid plans in the fourth quarter. Overall, it gained 1.6 million new members last year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"Relentless cost management and continued business simplification were prevailing themes in 2011," UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen Hemsley said. "Innovation and development activities for new markets advanced steadily through the year, as we strengthened key capabilities to respond to emerging growth opportunities."

UnitedHealth's overall medical-loss ratio was 79.7 percent, slightly higher than the same time last year but lower than its third-quarter ratio, according to Reuters.

UnitedHealth also saw growth from its commercial business, saying it was the strongest growth in that business in a decade. Revenue from its health services business, Optum, also jumped 23 percent and posted $279 million in operating profits, the Star Tribune noted.

Considered the bellwether for the health insurance industry, UnitedHealth's fourth-quarter earnings "bode well for managed care earnings season," Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Borsch said in a research note, according to Reuters.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article
- check out the Minneapolis Star Tribune article
- see the Reuters article