WellPoint profit tops estimates on lower costs

Wed Nov 7, 2012 7:08am EST

(Reuters) - Health insurer WellPoint Inc (WLP.N) joined rivals UnitedHealth Group (UNH.N) and Aetna Inc (AET.N) in reporting a better-than-expected quarterly profit as the company reined in costs.

WellPoint's net income rose to $691.2 million, or $2.15 per share, in the third quarter, from $683.2 million, or $1.90 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned $2.09 per share, while analysts' expected earnings of $1.84, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"The third quarter reflected a combination of improved core operating performance, administrative expense management, and favorability in the capital management of the company," WellPoint CFO Wayne DeVeydt said in a statement.

The second-largest U.S. health insurer by market value said enrollment totaled 33.5 million members at the end of September, down about 2.5 percent from a year earlier.

The company, which had warned on intensifying competition and rising medical costs in July, said it still expects year-end enrollment of about 33.4 million and also reiterated its full-year earnings forecast.

U.S. health insurers are facing a healthcare reform as the governments tries to put a clamp on reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid, as part of its wider effort to bridge a growing budget deficit.

The overhaul has prompted a string of deals in the health insurance sector as the companies rush to gain scale and market share.

WellPoint in July announced a deal to buy rival Amerigroup Corp AGP.N for $4.46 billion to focus on its Medicaid business. This was closely followed by Aetna announcing the $5.6 billion buy of Coventry Health Care Inc CVH.N.

Shares of WellPoint, which has a market value of about $19.9 billion, closed at $61.20 on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Esha Dey in Bangalore; Editing by Supriya Kurane)

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