UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) will release its quarterly report on Thursday, and recently, just about all anyone can talk about regarding health-insurance companies is the beginning of the open-enrollment period for health insurance exchanges under Obamacare. UnitedHealth rival WellPoint (NYSE:ANTM) has made a well-publicized push toward embracing the exchanges. But UnitedHealth earnings aren't reliant on the exchanges, and the company's actually working hard to maximize its diversification potential.

Admittedly, one of the reasons that UnitedHealth and its peers have seen such strong share-price gains over the past year is that investors expect the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to bring millions of new customers to insurers' doorsteps. But UnitedHealth's move to seek exposure to insurance markets abroad will help it stand out from Humana (NYSE:HUM), Aetna (NYSE:AET), and WellPoint, which report substantially all of their revenue from the U.S. market. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with UnitedHealth Group over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its report.

Stats on UnitedHealth Group

Analyst EPS Estimate


Change From Year-Ago EPS


Revenue Estimate

$30.83 billion

Change From Year-Ago Revenue


Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters


Source: Yahoo! Finance.

How will UnitedHealth earnings hold up this quarter?
Analysts have gotten somewhat more optimistic in recent months about UnitedHealth earnings, holding third-quarter estimates steady but raising full-year 2013 projections by $0.07 per share. The stock has continued its upward momentum, rising 10% since mid-July.

Most of UnitedHealth's gains came after its second-quarter earnings report. The insurer reported a 10% jump in earnings per share on revenue gains of 12%, and although that revenue growth fell short of expectations, net income beat analyst estimates. The company's core health insurance business grew sales by 11%, as enrollment growth bolstered its numbers on the commercial-insurance side.

One thing that sets UnitedHealth apart from WellPoint, Humana, and Aetna is the success of its Optum health services business division. Optum sales soared 21%, with operating earnings rising 68%. Yet Optum's biggest benefit is the fact that it not only serves UnitedHealth insurance customers but also brings in external users, especially in its OptumRx pharmacy benefits management unit. OptumRx's ability to provide UnitedHealth customers with an in-house solution hurt Express Scripts (NASDAQ:ESRX), which lost the insurer's former business, but it spells bigger profits for UnitedHealth.

Another big potential grower comes from UnitedHealth's international business. International revenue amounted to just 5% of total sales, but the acquisition of Brazilian health-care giant Amil produced substantial gains in the international segment. Given the political uncertainty surrounding Obamacare, UnitedHealth can only benefit by spreading the political risk beyond U.S. borders to have global exposure to the health-insurance field.

Risk-averse shareholders should also applaud UnitedHealth's deliberate pace in embracing Obamacare. CEO Stephen Hemsley believes that early enrollees for Obamacare will likely be the least profitable, explaning why UnitedHealth hasn't followed WellPoint's lead in embracing exchanges heartily. Aetna has been similarly cautious, and UnitedHealth should have ample opportunity to jump in later if the Affordable Care Act works out well.

In the UnitedHealth earnings report, watch for comments about how the opening weeks of health-insurance exchanges have gone for it and other industry players. The fate of Obamacare will loom large over UnitedHealth and the health insurance industry for years to come.

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