WellPoint forecasts 2010 profit of at least $6 a share

 WellPoint Inc., the biggest U.S. health insurer by enrollment, has confirmed its 2010 earnings forecast of at least $6 a share, below analysts’ $6.11 estimate.

Year-end medical enrollment will be 33.3 million members, while operating revenue will total about $59 billion, the Indianapolis-based company said Wednesday in a regulatory filing. Fourteen analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 2010 sales of $58.5 billion, on average.

The forecast doesn’t include the possible impact of federal health care reform, WellPoint said. The company also projected operating cash flow for the year of about $1.1 billion.

WellPoint topped analysts’ estimates for fourth-quarter profit in January as premium increases helped offset membership declines sparked by the recession. Net income for the quarter jumped more than eightfold, to $2.74 billion, or $5.95 a share, which included the $4.7 billion sale of the company’s pharmacy benefits business. Adjusted earnings of $1.16 a share exceeded by 13 cents the average estimate of 18 analysts.

WellPoint shares rose 45 cents, to $61.97 each, Tuesday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares had surged 71 percent in the past 12 months.

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