3 UnitedHealth Earnings Highlights for Agents

An insurer tries to move past the Affordable Care Act exchange phase

(Photo: AP) (Photo: AP)

Executives at UnitedHealth Group Inc. said only a little about commercial insurance and commercial health insurance policy on Tuesday when they went over the company's first-quarter earnings during a conference call with securities analysts.

(Related: UnitedHealth to take $350 million LTCI guaranty fund charge)

The Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company focused mainly on its role as a provider of Medicaid plans, Medicare plans and health care management services.

Stephen Hemsley, acknowledged that UnitedHealth is an insurance company mainly when he was talking about the Affordable Care Act health insurer tax, a tax that was originally added to the ACA by Democrats in Congress who feared that the ACA individual health coverage ownership mandate and the ACA public exchange system would send health insurers windfall profits.

"Affordability can be improved most in the immediate term through a lower tax," Hemsley said during the call, which was streamed live on the web. "We hope Congress acts soon to permanently repeal the tax."

UnitedHealth is the first big health insurer to release first-quarter earnings. The company as a whole is reporting $2.2 billion in net income for the quarter on $38.9 billion in revenue, up from $1.6 billion in net income on $35 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2016.

The company ended the quarter providing or administering health coverage for 49.3 million people, up from 48.6 million people a year earlier.

Here's a look at three highlights from the conference call for agents and brokers in the commercial health insurance market.

1. Executives avoided mentioning people who sell insurance.

UnitedHealth executives did not use words such as "broker" or "consultant" during the call, or in their earnings release.

Dirk McMahon, executive vice president of enterprise operations, mentioned "agents" once: when he was talking about the call center service agents who talk workers at self-insured employers into signing up for disease management programs.

2. Executives were vague about what they want the federal government to do and what they think it is doing.

Executives said several times that they would like to see Congress eliminate the ACA health insurer tax.

Hemsley said he would like to see the government be more flexible and focus more on state-based markets.

When an analyst tried to get Hemsley to give clues about what he's seeing in Washington, Hemsley implied that he sees what everyone else sees.

The Wall Street Journal carried a front-page article on Tuesday about health insurer confusion about what the commercial health insurance market will be like in 2018.

"If you have been following the media with respect to health care policy, I would say that the media has been very accurate with respect to the narrative that is going on there," Hemsley said. "So, I think that, if you were following the media, generally speaking, you'd be up to speed."

3. UnitedHealth still has some individual major medical enrollees.

Executives did not mention the company's remaining commercial individual health business during the conference call, but the company reported in the earnings release that it still has 585,000 individual major medical enrollees.

Individual health enrollment is down from 1.5 million a year earlier.

Medicare Advantage enrollment increased to 4.3 million, from 3.5 million, and Medicaid enrollment increased to 6.2 million, from 5.4 million.

The number of Medicare supplement policyholders increased to 4.35 million, from 4.2 million.

--- Read UnitedHealth execs skimp on commercial health talk on ThinkAdvisor.

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