Anthem’s 4Q Profit Surges on Higher Rates, Tax Benefit

(AP) —
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Anthem’s fourth-quarter profit more than doubled as the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer raised rates to cover rising costs and became the latest company to report a huge tax cut benefit.

The nation’s second-largest health insurer also announced on Wednesday a 2018 forecast that topped the average expectation on Wall Street and hiked its dividend by a nickel. Company shares jumped higher than the broader market after trading started.

Anthem Inc. said it recorded a $1.1 billion benefit from corporate tax cuts in the quarter, giving the company an effective tax rate of 3.1 percent. Rival UnitedHealth Group Inc. and other companies have detailed similar benefits since Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump sped a $1.5 trillion tax cut plan into law last month.

Anthem covers more than 40 million people and sells individual and employer-sponsored coverage in key markets like New York and California. It saw operating revenue, which excludes items like investment gains, climb 4.5 percent to $22.45 billion in 2017’s final quarter, a gain driven by rate hikes and enrollment gains.

Medical claims, by far the insurer’s biggest expense, rose 6 percent to $18.67 billion in the quarter.

Overall, the insurer’s profit surged to $1.23 billion, with adjusted earnings coming in at $1.29 per share.

That was 4 cents better than Wall Street had expected, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

For the year, the company earned $3.84 billion on $89.06 billion in operating revenue.

In 2018, Anthem expects adjusted earnings to exceed $15 per share.

Analysts, meanwhile, forecast $14.07 per share, according to FactSet.

The Indianapolis insurer also said Wednesday that it would bump the quarterly dividend it pays shareholders up to 75 cents a share starting in March.

Company officials also said during a conference call with analysts that CVS Health Corp. remains very engaged in a partnership that will help Anthem run prescription drug coverage. The two companies announced in October that they planned to team up as Anthem creates a pharmacy benefits manager called IngenioRx starting in 2020.

Shortly after that announcement, reports first surfaced that CVS was interested in buying another insurer, Aetna Inc. That deal was then announced in December.

Anthem shares jumped 2 percent, or $5.62, to $249.06 Wednesday morning. That recaptured some of the value the shares and other health care stocks lost Tuesday, when Amazon, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and the New York bank JPMorgan Chase rattled stocks in the sector by announcing a new venture into health care.

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