As Anthem (ANTM) beat top- and bottom-line estimates during the first quarter, company executives indicated on Wednesday they remain cautiously optimistic about its Obamacare health exchanges, in contrast to fellow insurer UnitedHealth Group (UNH) .
Anthem shares fell about 2.9% to $142.75 in morning trading, assigning company a market capitalization of about $38.2 billion.
The Indianapolis, Ind.-based managed care healthcare company posted $3.46 in adjusted EPS, exceeding the Wall Street's estimate of $3.32 per share. Operating revenue also came in north of estimates, as the company posted about $20.3 billion for its period ended March 31, topping top line expectations of $19.8 billion.
Anthem, which posted first-quarter results before the opening bell, attributed its financial performance to higher-than-anticipated enrollment growth in both its commercial and government business.
Concern around Affordable Care Act health exchanges, which have been a challenging and money-losing market for health insurers, remained top of mind for analysts and investors on Wednesday.
Acknowledging the lag in performance in the Obamacare exchange marketplace, company executives told investors on a Wednesday morning call that Anthem does not plan to move beyond its existing exchange territories in 14 states. Even so, Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish indicated that he is confident a sustainable model can be built for the exchanges.
"We're really please overall in how our team has been able to navigate a changing landscape over the last view years," Anthem chief executive Joseph Swedish told investors on the earnings call. "We do believe we're well positioned for continued growth in the public exchanges."
Anthem CFO Wayne DeVeydt added that "it appears to be a flight to safety," referring to a growing number ACA members coming to Anthem, which sell policies under its Blue Cross and Blue Shield brand.
Anthem executives also noted the potential for future expansion on the exchanges once its pending $54.2 billion deal with Cigna (CI) is completed. Swedish told investors Wednesday that Anthem remains confident the Cigna transaction will close as anticipated in the second half of 2016.
Anthem executives said Anthem continues to target margins of 3% to 5%, however it doesn't expect to achieve that level of margin until 2018.
Anthem's results come after Minnetonka, Minn.-based Unitedhealth on April 19 also beat quarterly estimates, while also revealing plans to exit most of its Obamacare marketplaces by 2017. The U.S. health insurance giant also boosted its expectation for losses on the exchanges by another $125 million to $650 million.
UnitedHealth's decision to withdraw from most change marketplaces is likely to be a tailwind for the company's 2017 earnings, but if you take a longer-term view and the government and industry can stabilize the exchange business, it won't be in an ideal position in the foreseeable future to profit from them, Susquehanna analyst Chris Rigg said an interview earlier this week.
"From a pure investment point of view, you want the exchanges to work because it's a source of profitability, but unfortunately for now, it's not working" Rigg said.
On Tuesday, Medicaid managed care provider Centene (CNC) posted a solid start to the year on Tuesday.
The company put to bed much of the investor uncertainty around its $6 billion Health Net Inc. acquisition, which closed later than anticipated in late March, as well as any potential concern around its exchange exposure. St Louis, Mo.-based Centene revealed that its individual exchange business remains profitable unlike some of its peers, and that Health Net's exchanges, aside from Arizona, are also profitable.