With elective procedures delayed, UnitedHealth profit spikes

The nation’s largest health insurer more than doubled its second-quarter profit, as COVID-19 shutdowns kept patients out of doctor’s offices and off operating tables.

UnitedHealth’s medical costs tumbled 11% to $34.68 billion with demand for care suppressed from the middle of March until May. Toward the end of the quarter, however, a more normalized levels of care was returning.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. earned $6.64 billion in the three-month window that ended June 30, or nearly half of what it earned all last year. Adjusted earnings totaled $7.12 per share. That easily beat the $5.28 that Wall Street had expected, according to a poll by FactSet.

Total revenue climbed about 3% to $62.14 billion, falling short of analyst expectations for $63.48 billion.

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UnitedHealth runs UnitedHealthcare, a health insurance business that covers about 48 million people, mostly in the United States. The company’s Optum segment also runs one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit management operations as well as a growing number of clinics and urgent care and surgery centers.

Surgical procedures and other medical visits are expected to ramp up in the year’s second half if COVID-19 is brought under control.

Uncertainty about how the virus will ultimately impact their business has led most health insurers to speak of their expectations for the year cautiously.

UnitedHealth on Wednesday stuck to annual per-share earnings projections it provided late last year of between $16.25 and $16.55 for 2020.

Wall Street is looking for around $16.30 per share, according to FactSet.

The lack of claims during the quarter has pushed insurance providers like UnitedHealth to offer premium credits to some customers and to waive costs tied to COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment and other care.

UnitedHealth is offering free telehealth services and has provided $1.5 billion in support through premium credits and cost waivers, among other things.

Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc., based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, fell 1% before the opening bell.

Shares hit an all-time high in February before the pandemic tossed U.S. markets into turmoil, and the company’s stock plunged. By June, however, UnitedHealth shares were hitting new highs again.

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Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy

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