* Q4 EPS 92 cents ex legal costs tops view 82 cents
* Admissions to hospitals owned at least a year up 4.3 pct
* Emergency room visits jump 12.7 percent
* Sees impact of health reform phasing in over several years
* Shares climb almost 4 percent before turning lower
By Susan Kelly
Feb 5 HCA Holdings Inc, the largest U.S.
for-profit hospital operator, on Tuesday reported lower
quarterly net earnings due to costs to settle legal claims, but
revenues were boosted as more patients sought treatment during a
severe flu season.
An early and unusually intense flu season has pushed up
business for hospitals, pharmacies and their suppliers, but is
putting a dent in insurers' profits. Health insurer Humana Inc
on Monday reported higher costs for flu-related hospital
visits, calling it the worst flu season in a decade.
HCA reported fourth-quarter earnings excluding special items
that exceeded expectations on surprisingly strong patient
volume, with emergency room visits jumping 12.7 percent in part
due to people seeking treatment for the flu.
But HCA gave a forecast for 2013 that was below Wall Street
views, news that overshadowed the fourth-quarter results and
caused the company's shares to reverse early gains of almost 4
The shares had rallied 24 percent since the start of the
year on anticipation that hospitals would soon see an influx of
patients under health reform.
"The stock really is a reform trade right now more than
anything else," said Jefferies & Co analyst Brian Tanquilut.
HCA Chief Executive Richard Bracken, on a conference call
with analysts, said the expected ramp-up in patients enrolling
in health insurance programs under the reform legislation could
take three to four years.
How many people ultimately obtain health coverage will
depend on variables such as which states expand their Medicaid
programs for the poor, how many employers drop private coverage
for employees, and what reimbursement levels will be for
providers of insurance-exchange products.
HCA said it expects 2013 earnings, excluding items, in a
range of $3.00 to $3.30 per share, on revenue of $33.5 billion
to $34.5 billion.
Analysts on average were expecting full-year earnings of
$3.46 per share, on revenue of $37.52 billion, according to
Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Fourth-quarter net income fell to $314 million, or 68 cents
per share, from $1.94 billion, or $4.25 a share, a year earlier,
when results included one-time gains from facilities sales and
Excluding legal expenses in the latest quarter, Nashville,
Tennessee-based HCA reported earnings of 92 cents per share.
Analysts, on average, expected 82 cents per share, according
to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and
amortization fell 2 percent to $1.61 billion.
Revenue increased 8.5 percent to $8.43 billion in the
Admissions to hospitals operated at least one year rose 4.3
percent. Admissions to facilities operated for at least a year,
combined with outpatient volumes, increased 5 percent.
Shares of were down less than 1 percent at $37.44.