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UnitedHealth to take $350 million LTCI guaranty fund charge

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Executives at UnitedHealth Group Inc., a major health insurer, today emphasized their company’s role as a provider of health care information and care delivery management services.

Executives at the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company talked occasionally about the company’s commercial health insurance operations during a conference call they held to go over fourth-quarter earnings. But in the previously prepared portion of their remarks, they used the word “insurance” only in connection with a $350 million special charge.

Related: UnitedHealth execs skimp on commercial health talk

UnitedHealth never sold any long-term care insurance, but state guaranty funds are requiring UnitedHealth and other health insurers to pay assessments to cover the cost of protecting the policyholders of Penn Treaty Insurance Company and a sister company. Pennsylvania regulators are in the process of liquidating both companies, after concluding that the company’s reserves cannot support the LTCI coverage the companies wrote.

UnitedHealth can pay the $350 million Penn Treaty guaranty fund assessment over several years, and it hopes to recover much of the charge through state insurance premium tax credits over time, according to David Wichmann, the company’s president.

In spite of the charge, UnitedHealth is reporting $1.9 billion in net income for the fourth quarter on $37 billion in revenue, compared with $1.2 billion in net income on $32 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2015.

The company ended 2016 providing or administering health coverage for 48 million people, up from 46 million people a year earlier.

Fully insured group enrollment increased to 7.5 million, from 7.1 million, and enrollment in self-insured plans the company manages increased to 18.9 million, from 18.6 million.

Enrollment in individual major medical plans, which UnitedHealth is de-emphasizing this year, rose to 1.35 million, from 1.2 million.

Company executives praised the performance of the company’s Medicare plan operations, but they talked more about a recently announced $2.3 billion acquisition of Birmingham, Alabama-based Surgical Care Affiliates Inc., a care manager.

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In the past, UnitedHealth has said it will be reducing its presence in the individual market because of concerns about the effects of the Affordable Care Act, including the ACA public exchange system, on that market.

Stephen Hemsley, UnitedHealth’s chief executive officer, said he did not want to talk much about what might happen, but he said UnitedHealth believes it can play a role in whatever ultimately evolves from the current health care system.

UnitedHealth will look for opportunities on any public exchanges that continue to exist, and in any other flexible commercial health insurance markets, he said.

The company also would be interested in talking about “well-structured and managed high risk pools,” Hemsley said.

Risk pools are programs created to provide health benefits for people with health problems, who might not qualify to buy ordinary major medical coverage at standard rates if the United States brings back the kind of medical underwriting rules that governed the individual market in most states before the ACA along.


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