US health insurers report billions in first quarter, while small providers face stress | Health sector

US health insurers report billions in first quarter, while small providers face stress |  Health sector

Health insurers have been insulated from this stress because there were sharp declines in expensive, elective procedures, such as hip replacement surgery. People also delayed or skipped doctor’s appointments because of fears of Covid-19’s spread or concerns about the cost of medical care during a recession. Insurers’ financial success is not reflected across the healthcare system. Small healthcare providers such as independent doctor’s office and rural hospitals have been in a financial crunch, or closed, during the pandemic. Emergency medical service systems and some larger hospitals have also been under severe financial pressure. Allison Hoffman, a health law expert at the University of Pennsylvania, explained: “Insurers’ Covid-related costs have been far smaller than their pandemic-related savings.”

CVS Health, which owns the Aetna health insurance provider and drugstores, reported $2.2bn in profits, up from $2bn in the same quarter a year before. Anthem also beat estimates in its report of $1.67bn in profits in the first three months of 2021, a 9.5% increase from the same period last year. Humana’s net income was $828m in the first quarter, a 75% increase from the same period the year before.

Cigna said on Friday its net income fell to $1.17bn from $1.19bn in the same period last year, but it still raised its forecasts for the year. Together, the companies represent the country’s five biggest health insurers by membership. The nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group, reported $4.9bn in profits in the first quarter of 2021 compared to $3.4bn in the same period in 2020 – a 44% increase. The higher than anticipated profits prompted the company to raise its projections for the year.

CVS Health’s chief financial officer and executive vice-president, Eva Boratto, said in an earnings call this week: “Covid-19 is expected to have a minimal impact on consolidated financial results for the year.” Insurers are required to return part of the profits to the individuals and employers who use their services because of the Affordable Care Act’s cap on insurance company profits. “Folks were able to get access to care in 2020 when a lot of the stay-at-home rules were relaxed,” Gallina told analysts. “So at this point in time, we are taking a very cautious approach, certainly monitoring all of the variables, but we still believe that our original outlook for utilization is appropriate and prudent.”

Anthem’s executive vice-president and chief financial officer, John Gallina, said it was too early to see pent-up demand. Last year, insurers warned medical use could soar when Covid-19 cases decrease and people are more comfortable visiting a doctor’s office. In earnings calls this quarter, health insurance executives said they expect medical use to be normal or slightly above normal, but not extreme, in the second half of the year.

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