KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

WellPoint Walks Back Forecast Of Big Rate Hikes

Company officials said that 2015 rates will vary by market but given a late surge of younger enrollees, increases may not be as high as initially projected. Meanwhile, Cigna's first quarter profits surged on its group disability and life operations.

The Associated Press: WellPoint Falls 21%
WellPoint's first-quarter net income fell 21 percent as the nation's second-largest health insurer adjusted to coverage changes introduced by the health care overhaul. But the Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer touted the underlying strength of its business and once again raised its 2014 forecast after reporting on Wednesday quarterly earnings that topped Wall Street expectations. Its stock climbed in premarket trading after it released results. The federal overhaul expanded coverage to millions of people starting this year, but the law also enacted taxes and fees, as well as changes to how insurers write their coverage (4/30).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Major Obamacare Insurer Backs Away From Double-Digit Rate Hike Prediction
Company officials were more cagey about expectations Wednesday. Several analysts asked about expected rate increases for next year, including one analyst who asked specifically whether the insurer expects double-digit rate increases and if it felt any pressure to keep down rates after a meeting with President Obama this month. “Rates will vary by market, but given this information, they may not be what we thought from previous reports,” Wellpoint said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement (Millman, 4/30).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: WellPoint Softens Forecast For Obamacare Rate Hikes
Welcoming a surge of young, last-minute enrollees, the biggest player in the health law’s insurance marketplaces on Wednesday tempered its prediction for substantial 2015 rate increases (Hancock, 4/30).

The Wall Street Journal: WellPoint Reports Lower Profit But Growth In Membership
WellPoint said it had enrolled around 400,000 new members through the health-law marketplaces, and expected the total would be above 600,000 when sign-ups through mid-April are added. The insurer said its marketplace sign-ups had gotten younger as the enrollment period progressed, and it reiterated that it expected margins of around 3% to 5% on the business. Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt said factors including the ramp-up in the fee the government is charging insurers under the health law would impact marketplace premiums next year, but he said the overall pricing trend would vary by market. The insurer's experience is being closely watched because of its big position in the new government marketplaces (Mathews and Rubin, 4/30).

The Associated Press: WellPoint Helps Investors Breathe Easy On Overhaul
Investors pushed WellPoint shares closer to their all-time high price on Wednesday after the company raised its 2014 forecast again and became the latest health insurer to ease some worry about a key health care overhaul coverage expansion. The Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer estimates that it will add more than 600,000 customers through state-based public insurance exchanges that started accepting enrollment last fall, and it said it still expects to make money from that business (4/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Cigna Profit Surges On Improved Group Disability, Life Operations
Cigna Corp. said its first-quarter profit surged as the company posted higher revenue, particularly from its group disability and life operations. The results easily topped analysts' expectations. … The health insurer said in February that it expected to lose money on health-care exchanges this year as enrollment numbers looked soft in the early going, particularly after a series of technical glitches in the federal site that slowed registration (Calia, 5/1).

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