UnitedHealth Group's ( UNH) pulse is racing. The powerful health insurer once again sped past Wall Street expectations when reporting another record quarter on Thursday. The company posted second-quarter profits of 93 cents a share -- beating the consensus estimate by a penny -- despite soft enrollment numbers in certain business segments. It also raised its earnings forecast for the full year to between $3.79 and $3.82 a share, excluding any gains from its upcoming purchase of Oxford Health ( OHP). Analysts, on average, were previously anticipating that 2004 profits would fall at the low point of that range. Even Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Borsch -- who has a cautious view on the sector -- called the company's latest results "mostly strong and solid." He did, however, expect higher enrollment growth and profit margins from a couple of business units. For example, Borsch pointed out, enrollment in the company's Uniprise division -- a health benefits administrator for large employers -- fell by 90,000 sequentially. Borsch also expected higher revenue from the company's commercial risk business even though it reported "modest" enrollment growth instead of the decline he had anticipated. Still, the market -- like Borsch himself -- was generally happy with the results. Investors pushed shares of the big health insurer up 3.5% to $64.05 late Thursday morning.
Going All Sunny
Looking ahead, UnitedHealth offered a sunny prognosis for the future as well. "We expect strong results from our businesses in the second half of this year," said UnitedHealth CEO William McGuire. "Our internal revenue growth rate is poised to accelerate, and recent strategic acquisitions will provide meaningful advances for customers as well as strong financial contributions to our company." But at least one doctor who treats UnitedHealth patients was sickened by the company's soaring profits. Lisa Medwedeff, an internal medicine physician in the Dallas area, last summer blasted UnitedHealth for allegedly suggesting that she downgrade her treatment of patients in order to comply with the company's "bell curves" and, in the meantime, forgo certain insurance payments. Thomas Miller, Medwedeff's husband and the manager of her popular doctor's practice, was already cringing ahead of UnitedHealth's earnings report this week.