The No. 2 American health care provider,

UnitedHealth Group

(UNH) - Get Report

, reported a 32% increase in first-quarter profits Thursday, beating Wall Street expectations.

Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth said its net operating profit rose to $160 million, or 95 cents a diluted share, vs. $132 million, or 72 cents a diluted share, in the first quarter of 1999. That beat estimates by

First Call/Thomson Financial

, which had forecast earnings of 91 cents a share.

Revenues for the quarter rose to $5.10 billion from $4.81 billion in the year-ago quarter, while the company's operating margin improved to 5.4% compared to 4.6% for the same quarter last year.

In a statement, Chairman and Chief Executive William W. McGuire said the results reflect the continuing growth for the company, helped by the company's efforts to improve productivity.

He also said the company expects to keep improving, and is comfortable with projections of 25% year-over-year growth for 2000 vs. 1999.