Insurers stick to 2020 outlooks as COVID-19 pandemic spreads

Anthem and Humana became on Wednesday the latest health insurers to reaffirm their 2020 earnings forecasts, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has made outlooks in other sectors essentially worthless.

The pandemic has shut down large portions of the economy and forced many companies to abandon their forecasts. But insurers so far have said they don’t know enough yet about COVID’s impact to take such a radical step.

They are still trying to understand the cost of treating patients, especially those who wind up spending days in the hospital. They also don’t know yet how many companies will cut employees with health coverage and dent their enrollment.

Then there are elective surgeries or procedures that aren’t emergencies.

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Many have been postponed or cancelled. Most will be rescheduled so those bills won’t go away. But they may arrive later this year or in 2021, depending on how jammed surgery center schedules become once people feel comfortable enough to leave quarantines.

“The future may look markedly different from what anyone expects,” Anthem Chief Financial Officer John Gallina told analysts in a Wednesday morning conference call to discuss the first quarter.

The pandemic spread too late in the quarter in the United States to have much of an impact on health insurer income statements.

But insurers expect to see their enrollment shift as companies lay off workers who may then lose their employer-sponsored health insurance.

As many as 50% of Anthem customers who lose coverage could shift to the government-funded Medicaid program for people with low incomes, CEO Gail Boudreaux told analysts. Another 30% may wind up on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces.

That doesn’t necessarily amount to lost business, since Anthem manages Medicaid coverage in many states and sells individual plans on those marketplaces.

The Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer still expects adjusted earnings to be greater than $22.30 per share this year.

Analysts forecast, on average, earnings of $22.01 per share, according to FactSet.

Indianapolis-based Anthem Inc. is the nation’s second-largest insurer. It covers more than 42 million people in several states, including big markets like New York and California.

Medicare Advantage coverage provider Humana Inc. still expects adjusted earnings in the range of $18.25 to $18.75 this year.

Wall Street predicts $18.46 per share.

The nation’s largest health insurance provider, UnitedHealth Group Inc., and Medicaid specialist Centene Corp. also reaffirmed their forecasts earlier this month.

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Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy

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