UnitedHealth was this quarter's most profitable payer—again

Each of the six major national payers exceeded Wall Street's expectations for profit in the first quarter, with UnitedHealth Group out in front as the most profitable company.

The health insurance giant continues its streak of profitability in the first quarter, earning $5 billion in profit. The next-highest company, CVS Health, earned $2.3 billion in profit.

A graphic displayed insurers' earnings in Q1

UnitedHealth executives said that the company saw double-digit growth at both UnitedHealthcare, its health plan arm, and Optum. Optum, in particular, has been a bright spot for growth over the past several quarters.

UHG also beat the Street for revenue, bringing in $80.1 billion. That's a hike of nearly $10 billion compared to the first quarter of 2021, where the company brought in $70.2 billion.

CVS came in second on profit and also on revenue, bringing in $76.8 billion. That's a double-digit revenue increase from its first-quarter 2021 haul of $69.1 billion. 

Revenues were up across its business lines, including a 9% increase at CVS Pharmacy despite a downturn in COVID-19 vaccinations and testing volume in the quarter. Revenues at Aetna, the company's health plan wing, were up by 12.8%.

Anthem slots in at third place for profitability, earning $1.8 billion in the quarter. That's up from $1.7 billion in the prior-year quarter. The insurer also had the fourth-highest revenue in the quarter, earning $38.1 billion.

Cigna lands in fourth place for profit and third place for revenue in the quarter, according to its report released Friday. It earned $1.18 billion in profit for the quarter, up from $1.16 billion a year before.

Revenues at Cigna hit $44 billion, up from $41 billion in the first quarter of 2021.

Humana earned $930 million in profit for the quarter for the fifth-highest earnings among the six companies. Its profits increased from $828 million in the first quarter of 2021. The insurer does land last on the list in revenue, with $24 billion for the quarter.

Centene is in sixth for profitability, earning $849 million for the quarter. That's up from $699 million in the first quarter of 2021. Centene earned $37.2 billion in revenue for first quarter of 2022, up from $30 billion in the prior-year quarter.