KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

UnitedHealth Cites Health Law, Costly Hepatitis Drug In Reporting Lower Earnings

The health law's effect was mixed, officials said, because the company did not participate in many of the online marketplaces, but it did see more customers for its Medicaid plans. Officials are considering a bigger role in the marketplaces next year.

The New York Times: Health Law Bellwether, UnitedHealth Posts Lower Profit
The UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest health insurers, reported lower earnings on Thursday, attributing its weak results in part to the federal health care law. It said profits were also weighed down by an expensive new drug to treat hepatitis C that costs $1,000 a pill (Abelson, 4/17).

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth's Profit Falls Amid Health-Law Changes
UnitedHealth said the health law pushed down earnings by around 30 cents a share, including via taxes and cuts to government payments for Medicare Advantage, which is the private version of the federal benefit program. The company also said it lost around 90,000 customers from its business selling insurance to individual consumers, as it chose to play a very limited role in the law's public marketplaces where consumers shop for coverage. But the law also helped drive an increase of 255,000 people in UnitedHealth's Medicaid plans. … The company also highlighted more than $100 million in costs tied to hepatitis C treatment in the first quarter across its Medicaid, commercial and Medicare segments (Stynes and Mathews, 4/17).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Biggest Insurer Shocked With Hepatitis C Costs
UnitedHealth Group spent $100 million on hepatitis C drugs in the first three months of the year, much more than expected, the company said Thursday. The news helped drive down the biggest insurance company's stock and underscores the challenge for all health care payers in covering Sovaldi, an expensive new pill for hepatitis C (Hancock, 4/17). 

Related earlier coverage: There’s a Life-Saving Hepatitis C Drug. But You May Not Be Able To Afford It. (Appleby, 3/3).

The Associated Press: UnitedHealth's 1Q Profit Tumbles 8 Percent
UnitedHealth Group's first-quarter net income slid 8 percent as funding cuts to a key product and costs imposed by the health care overhaul dented the health insurer's performance. The Minnetonka, Minn., company said Thursday the overhaul and government budget cuts added about 35 cents per share in costs during the quarter (Murphy, 4/17).

The Star Tribune: UnitedHealth Sees Impact Of Health Law; Profit Falls 8%
UnitedHealth Group Inc. pointed a finger at the new U.S. health law and cuts to Medicare payments on Thursday as it worked through a difficult first quarter. The Minnetonka-based company said earnings were down 8 percent during the quarter, as it felt the full brunt of the Affordable Care Act for the first time. Yet despite a somewhat downbeat tone from executives in a morning conference call with analysts, UnitedHealth maintained its previously stated outlook for the rest of 2014 (Crosby and Ramstad, 4/17).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: The Nation’s Largest Insurer Thinks Obamacare Exchanges Are Doing Just Fine
After taking a pretty cautious approach to the launch of the health insurance marketplaces in 2014, the nation's largest insurer said it's looking to expand its Obamacare footprint in 2015. UnitedHealth Group, which is participating in just five public exchanges this year, said it's likely to join more insurance marketplaces in 2015 but didn't offer specifics (Millman, 4/17).

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