Strong health cost management helped UnitedHealth Group Inc. increase fourth-quarter net income.

UnitedHealth, Minnetonka, Minn., is reporting $870 million in net income for the fourth quarter on $12 billion in revenue, up from $739 million in net income on $10.5 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2004.

The managed care company ended the quarter providing or administering care for 25 million people, up from 24 million people a year earlier.

Securities analysts said they had been hoping UnitedHealth would do even better, but the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, Santa Monica, Calif., issued a statement arguing that UnitedHealth’s earning growth is evidence that the United States is moving to a “privately owned ‘single payer’ system” in which patients will have less leverage and higher costs.