UnitedHealth's share price rose 6% in Tuesday morning trading, hitting $142.21 per share, after the healthcare provider reported better-than-expected earnings and increased its outlook for the remainder of fiscal year 2016.
UnitedHealth reported earnings of $2.17 per share, beating Wall Street estimate by about 9 cents per share. The company boosted its forecast for 2016 adjusted net earnings from about $7.80-$7.95 per share to about $8 per share.
UnitedHealth saw huge successes from its OptumHealth business, which manages its drug benefits and offers online healthcare data analytics. Analysts say what makes the business so valuable is its ability to discern health care outcomes; the system pays doctors for the quality of care they provide patients, rather than simply how many procedures they perform.
"UnitedHealth doesn't have to buy business by discounting," Mizuho Securities analyst Sheryl Skolnick, who has a buy rating on UnitedHealth, wrote in a note. Instead, the company benefits "by giving better value," Skolnick said.
Optum revenues grew 34% year-to-date and 9% year over year. The division brought in $21.1 billion in the third quarter of 2016.
During the investor call, held Tuesday morning, UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley noted that its Optum business is one of the company's largest tailwinds for growth.
In Skolnick's words, Optum is "on fire."
"Optum remains a unique asset in an underserved market to bend cost trend and improve the underwriting spread for third-party health plans and hospital systems," analyst Ana Gupte wrote in a note. "Optum Care is aligned with value-based care and the trend to shift utilization out of the hospital setting into lower cost sites of service with the integration of primary care physician practices with urgent care, ambulatory surgery centers and appropriate end of life care."
UnitedHealth sees more of the same for 2017.
"We expect to be well positioned in 2017 to better serve consumers and deliver more value to the health system overall," said Hemsley in a statement.
The performance has offset losses of approximately $200 million the company took from its Obamacare participation. UnitedHealth announced earlier in 2016 that it was scaling back its participation in the public insurance marketplace because it was no longer profitable.
UnitedHealth is thriving without the sort of dealmaking attempted by other major healthcare companies. Its four largest competitors -- Cigna (CI) - Get Report , Anthem (ANTM) - Get Report , Aetna (AET) and Humana (HUM) - Get Report are all locked in antitrust disputes with the Department of Justice over their mega mergers.
UnitedHealth has a market cap of $134.62 billion.