UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) is the nation's largest health insurer, and that means Obamacare's repeal could make it an interesting year for the company. Can UnitedHealth's financials capitalize on what's bound to be a big year of change?
In this clip from the Motley Fool's Industry Focus: Healthcare podcast, analyst Kristine Harjes and healthcare journalist Todd Campbell discuss UnitedHealth Group's recent financials and how the company can navigate choppy industry waters this year.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Jan. 18, 2017.
Kristine Harjes: Are you ready for earnings season?
Todd Campbell: I'm about as ready as I'm going to get.
Harjes: Good, because even if you're not ready, it's ready for you. [laughs]
Campbell: Here it comes! It's coming on fast.
Harjes: It is. UnitedHealth Group reported on Tuesday Morning, yesterday morning.
Campbell: Yeah. This is one of those companies that we're going to be laser-focused on in 2017 for a lot of different reasons, some industry-oriented and some stock-specific, and of course, some political.
Harjes: Absolutely. It's the biggest health insurer in the United States, so it definitely is a company to watch if you're interested in this changing healthcare landscape in America.
Campbell: Yeah. As the largest U.S. health insurance player, UnitedHealth made a lot of news last year when they came out and said, "Guess what, we're losing a boatload of money in selling our insurance plans on the Obamacare Affordable Care Act exchanges, so in 2017, we're going to back substantially away from that program." That kicked off a whole lot of activity within the industry, with a number of other insurers saying, "Yeah, we're losing money too, maybe we're going to walk it back, too." Now, with the election of Donald Trump in November and plans to repeal and replace, the health insurance market is going through a major transition over the course of the next 12 to 18 months, as all of the people who have been covered on the Affordable Care Act now have to seek out coverage through some other venue. What will that venue look look like? How will UnitedHealth profit from whatever change occurs? All of that is going to have to be carefully watched over the course of the next year.
Harjes: Absolutely. Management does expect that they'll post 2017 revenue between $197 billion to $199 billion. This is a humongous company. That would work out to the growth rate of about 6.5% to 7.5%, compared to the finish of 2016. That's still pretty solid growth. In particular, I would say watch out for the Optum segment. The way that this company works is they have the health insurer, which is the UnitedHealthcare insurance segment, and then they also have the Optum part, which has a whole bunch of different things involved in it. It has their pharmacy benefits manager, Optum Rx, data analytics, whole bunch of stuff going on in Optum, and it's been growing like a weed. Interestingly, in Q4, revenue from the insurance segment jumped over 15%. Meanwhile, the Optum revenue actually only inched upwards by a little over 1%.
Campbell: Yeah. There's a couple things that investors are going to have to remember here to keep it weighed as they're comparing year-over-year comparisons over the coming quarters. One of them is going to be, what is the impact of the drawdown, or exiting, these other markets in the individual marketplace? How will that affect revenue? It's almost like, when you're looking at insurers, because they're so big and the margins are so thin, it's less important what their top line is doing than it is what their bottom line is doing. If you look at the Q4 numbers, UnitedHealth's top line grew 9% to $47 billion, which is amazing. But maybe more important is to look at the adjusted EPS number for the quarter, which was up 50% to $2.11. The same thing with the 2016 full-year numbers, you had revenue surge. A lot of that was because of marketplace plans it turned out they were losing money on. So, revenue for the full year was $184 billion, up 18%. That sounds great, but they were losing money on some of that growth. So, when you're looking at that 2017 forecast, and you say, "Yeah, but revenue is only going to grow 6.5% this year, versus last year, and last year grew much faster," you have to remember that that revenue growth is going to be more profitable revenue growth than it was in 2016.
Harjes: Yes, absolutely. If you look at their earnings guidance, they're guiding for 15% to 19% bottom line growth.
Campbell: Right, very hard to argue with a stodgy, old, big insurer that can grow earnings by double-digit percentages. That's pretty compelling.