Aetna adds more individual Obamacare customers than projected

(Reuters) - Aetna Inc AET.N said more customers opted for its Obamacare plans in the first quarter than it had expected, but added that the program needed to be more flexible to become sustainable.

A trader points up at a display on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange August 20, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The health insurer hopes that the next government would allow companies to tailor Obamacare individual plans every year, just like it does with Medicare and Medicaid, Chief Executive Mark Bertolini said.

Many insurers have lost money on the healthcare exchanges, which were set up under the Affordable Care Act, because total enrollment has fallen sharply, while some patient costs have been higher than expected.

“We have not been able to touch this product because of the politics, but if we can get to that point, we believe, we are in a very good place to make this a sustainable program,” he said on a call with analysts.

Aetna said it had ended the quarter with 1.2 million individual members, which exceeded their previous membership estimates.

Anthem Inc ANTM.N, another big player in the industry, said on Wednesday it planned to stick to the business and was planning to grow in that market.

However, UnitedHealth Group Inc UNH.N, the biggest U.S. health insurer, confirmed last week that it was exiting the business in 2017.

Aetna, which is in the process of buying smaller rival Humana Inc HUM.N, reported first-quarter operating earnings that topped analysts' estimates.

The company said it was on track to close the Humana acquisition by the second half of the year and that it had obtained about two-thirds of the necessary state approvals required to close the deal.

Aetna’s medical benefit ratio, which compares the amount spent on medical claims with income from premiums, deteriorated to 80.5 percent from 79.1 percent a year ago.

The company’s operating earnings of $2.30 per share was above the average analyst estimate of $2.23, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total revenue rose 4 percent to $15.69 billion, beating estimates of $15.45 billion.

Aetna shares were up 1.5 percent at $115.52 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reporting by Amrutha Penumudi in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Anil D’Silva