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Health insurer WellCare raises forecast, looks to buy assets

Posted On: Aug. 5, 2015 12:00 AM CST

(Reuters) — WellCare Health Plans Inc. raised its full-year adjusted profit forecast and said it was interested in buying health care insurance plans that might be put on the block as the industry consolidates.

Companies in the U.S. managed care industry are looking to gain scale to cut costs and negotiate better prices with health care providers as the Affordable Care Act brings more people under insurance coverage.

Shares of WellCare, which also reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue, rose as much as 9.6% on Wednesday.

The company said it would focus on building scale in its existing markets in the United States, but was open to entering new markets. WellCare currently has greater presence in Florida, Georgia and Kentucky.

Last month, Anthem Inc. said it would buy Cigna Corp., and Aetna Inc. announced the acquisition of Humana Inc.

The deals could present acquisition opportunities for WellCare and rival Centene Corp. as Anthem and Aetna might have to sell some Medicare Advantage plans to satisfy antitrust regulators.

Centene, which has said it was looking to buy Medicare Advantage plans, is also acquiring Health Net Inc. for $6.3 billion to scale up its government plans business.

WellCare raised its adjusted earnings forecast for 2015 to $3.30-$3.45 per share from $3.15-$3.40.

Memberships in the company's Medicaid plans, which offer government-sponsored insurance to low-income families, rose 10.8% to 2.4 million in the second quarter. Adjusted medical benefits ratio, the share of premium WellCare spends on claims, improved to 88.8% from 93.5% in the business.

WellCare reported net income of $51.7 million, or $1.17 per share, for the quarter ended June 30 compared with a loss of $7.5 million, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.34 per share.

Revenue rose 10.5% to $3.48 billion.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 96 cents per share and revenue of $3.45 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

WellCare's shares were up 8.6% at $86.99 in late morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Up to Tuesday's close, the stock had risen 33% in the past 12 months.