Shares of UnitedHealth Group jumped more than 5% in early trading Tuesday after the company reported third quarter results that beat expectations for profit and revenue while putting a focus on the company’s expanding business running outpatient medical centers.
David Wichmann, the UnitedHealth Group chief executive, told investors during a conference call that the health care business is helping the company develop a “next generation” health care system, an ambition furthered in June by the purchase of DaVita Medical Group, which added more than 200 clinics across five states.
It was the third consecutive quarter that UnitedHealth beat expectations and raised financial guidance for the year, yet the company’s stock price has suffered in 2019 with talk among some Democratic presidential candidates of a “Medicare for All” system that could upend the private market.
“We have a strong track record of thriving in fluid environments, similar to the one we find ourselves in today,” Wichmann said. “We are uniquely diverse with significant experience and weight in every aspect of health care.”
UnitedHealth Group is Minnesota’s largest company with 320,000 employees worldwide, including about 18,000 workers in the state. UnitedHealthcare is the nation’s largest health insurer, providing coverage in the U.S. to about 43.5 million people at the end of September.
During the third quarter, UnitedHealth posted earnings of $3.54 billion on $60.35 billion of revenue, according to numbers released Tuesday, better than year-ago quarterly profit of $3.19 billion on $56.56 billion or revenue. Adjusted earnings per share of $3.88 beat by 13 cents the expectations of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.
Earnings and revenue grew faster in the company’s Optum business — which includes divisions for health care delivery, pharmacy benefits and health care consulting — than in the legacy UnitedHealthcare health insurance business. Based on the results, United increased its full-year outlook for adjusted net earnings to a range of $14.90 to $15 per share, an increase of 15 cents per share at the midpoint.
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Third quarter revenue in the Optum division that includes the growing medical clinic business increased 34% compared with the year-ago quarter to $8.1 billion. Expansion of behavioral health services also contributed to the growth, the company said.
Investor sentiment for managed care companies like United “turned abruptly negative a year ago and has stubbornly remained there,” wrote David Windley, an analyst with Jefferies, in a note to investors this month. “The primary poison in the punch bowl, political risk, won’t likely abate for at least another nine months.”
UnitedHealth Group executives on Tuesday, however, didn’t address the political discussion, but focused on growth initiatives.
Within UnitedHealthcare, the company is picking up employer group customers, Wichmann said, due in part to its partnership with a Minneapolis-based startup company called Bind. Dirk McMahon, the UnitedHealthcare chief executive, said the company’s business serving as a third-party administrator for large “self-insured” employer health plans added about 140,000 enrollees during the third quarter.
Andrew Witty, the chief executive at Optum, cited the growing number of physicians and patients that are part of the company’s large primary care practices in Nevada, Texas and New Jersey.
Wichmann said: “We are reinventing health care delivery, now directly serving 25 million patients in 35 local markets and in South America.”
Just after 9:30 a.m. central time, shares of UnitedHealth Group were trading at $237.89, up nearly 8% for the day.