WellPoint profit dips, but rising membership boosts outlook

Poorer investment returns dampened third-quarter profit at WellPoint Inc., but the company still beat the estimates of Wall Street analysts and raised its full-year profit forecast by as much as 3 percent.

The Indianapolis-based health insurer earned $630.9 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, down from $656.2 million in the same quarter a year ago. Smaller investment gains accounted for all of that difference and then some.

However, WellPoint’s earnings per share rose in the quarter to $2.22, from $2.16 per share a year ago. That’s because WellPoint now has 20 million fewer shares outstanding than it did a year ago.

Excluding the impact of investment returns, as well as a one-time tax benefit and expenses related to mergers and divestitures, WellPoint’s profits would have risen 4.9 percent in the quarter, yielding earnings per share of $2.36.

On that basis, analysts were expecting earnings per share of $2.27 per share in the quarter, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

For all of 2014, WellPoint now expects profits, excluding investments and special items, to range between $8.75 and $8.85 per share. In July, WellPoint said it expected full-year profit that was greater than $8.60 per share.

"I am encouraged by the strength of our third quarter results,” said WellPoint CEO Joe Swedish in a statement. “The substantial groundwork we have laid positions us well to capitalize on market opportunities in the future and to serve a growing number of members and their families."

Enrollment in WellPoint’s health plans increased by 259,000 members in the third quarter. Growth came in WellPoint’s employer and Medicaid plans, while its individual health plans declined by 108,000.

WellPoint’s total membership is now 37.5 million, or 2 million higher than it was at the end of the third quarter last year.

WellPoint shares rose 1.7 percent in premarket trading, to $120 each.

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