February 4, 2014 / 2:45 PM / in 4 years

UPDATE 1-HCA posts higher profit, sees health reform benefit

Feb 4 (Reuters) - HCA Holdings Inc, the largest U.S. hospital operator, said on Tuesday that fourth-quarter earnings rose from a year ago as it generated more revenue from patients despite a decline in admissions to its facilities.

U.S. hospitals have seen admissions decline during the economic downturn as people who lacked health insurance or faced higher out-of-pocket expenses avoided seeking medical care. The health reform law and its insurance exchanges are expected to benefit the industry this year by expanding insurance availability to more patients.

HCA said it expects a benefit from the health reform law in 2014 of about 1 to 2 percent of its adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization.

In the fourth quarter, net income was $424 million, or 92 cents a share, compared with $314 million, or 68 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue increased 4.8 percent to $8.84 billion.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of 86 cents a share on revenue of $8.83 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

HCA said fewer patients were admitted for pulmonary treatments and short stays in the fourth quarter compared with last year, when the flu season was more severe. But revenue per admission increased 4.6 percent.

The company forecast 2014 earnings excluding special items in a range of $3.45 to $3.75 a share on revenue of $35.5 billion to $36.5 billion.

HCA shares rose about 3 percent to $49.96 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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