NU Online News Service, Jan. 9, 2004, 11:48 a.m. EST – PacifiCare Health Systems Inc., Cypress, Calif., says the ongoing Southern California grocery strike could cut its 2004 earnings more than 2%.[@@]

PacifiCare has provided full-risk health maintenance organization coverage for 48,000 Southern California members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and PacifiCare’s pharmacy benefit management unit has administered a self-funded drug plan for 200,000 union members.

More than half of the union HMO members lost their PacifiCare health coverage Jan. 1 because they had not worked enough hours during the previous quarter to qualify for coverage, PacifiCare says.

Half of the drug plan members lost eligibility for prescription drug benefits.

A prolonged strike that continues to hold down membership could cut 2004 PacifiCare earnings by about 14 cents to 19 cents per share, PacifiCare says.

PacifiCare expects to report earnings of about $6 per share for 2003.

PacifiCare is “awaiting results of federal arbitration to determine the extent of the employers’ liability for funding the [union health coverage] trust,” PacifiCare says.