Health insurer Aetna tops 3Q earnings expectations, raises 2015 guidance again

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FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2014, file photo, a sign stands at Aetna headquarters in Hartford, Conn. Aetna reports quarterly financial results on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

Aetna joined a growing list of health insurers topping Wall Street's quarterly profit expectations, and it did so despite higher taxes and costs from a number of acquisitions.

It also raised its 2015 forecast again, saying Thursday that it now expects adjusted earnings to range between $7.45 and $7.55 per share.

That's up from a per-share earnings forecast of $7.40 in August, but still mostly short of the $7.53 that analysts are looking for, according to FactSet.

In the third quarter, Aetna's net income slid 6 percent to $560.1 million from $594.5 million in last year's quarter.

Adjusted results totaled $1.90 per share, which is 12 cents better than analysts had projected, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

Operating revenue, which excludes investment gains, rose 2 percent to about $14.99 billion, which missed average analyst expectations of $15.16 billion.

Health insurance is Aetna's main product, and most of its enrollment comes from commercial coverage sold through employers or directly to individuals. But the insurer and its competitors have been growing their stakes in the government funded Medicare and Medicaid programs. They're reacting, in part, to an aging baby boom generation that is becoming eligible for Medicare and the health care overhaul, which makes more people eligible for the state-and-federally funded Medicaid program.

Aetna's commercial enrollment stood nearly flat at 23.5 million people, compared to last year's third quarter, as gains in government-funded coverage were countered by a drop in commercial enrollment.

Income taxes climbed nearly 16 percent at nation's third-largest health insurer, to $460.5 million. That's mainly due to a higher, non-deductible health insurer fee levied as part of the health care overhaul.

The Hartford, Connecticut, company also booked acquisition-related costs of $44.4 million in the quarter tied to a handful of deals. The biggest is its pending, roughly $35-billion acquisition of Medicare Advantage coverage provider Humana.

Shareholders for both companies approved the deal earlier this month, but federal regulators are still reviewing it. Aetna's deal and competitor Anthem's pending acquisition of Cigna Corp. have stoked worry about competition in insurance markets, but Aetna executives have said its business largely complements Humana's.

Aetna's report follows Street-topping results released by the nation's largest insurer, UnitedHealth Group Inc., the Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem Inc. and Centene Corp.

Shares of Aetna Inc. were up $1.64 to $112.75 about an hour before markets opened Thursday. The stock had increased 25 percent since the beginning of the year, as of Wednesday's close, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has climbed 1.5 percent.

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