Big gains for health insurer Aetna

Tom Murphy
The Associated Press

Aetna easily topped second-quarter earnings expectations as another drop in benefit expenses and lower taxes helped the nation’s third-largest health insurer.

Net income inched up less than 1 percent to $1.21 billion, while earnings adjusted for non-recurring gains totaled $3.43 per share, the insurer said Thursday.

Analysts expected, on average, $3.07 per share, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Aetna didn’t offer a 2018 forecast or discuss results with analysts Thursday due to its pending acquisition by the drugstore chain and pharmacy benefit manager CVS Health Corp. The companies announced that roughly $69-billion deal late last year and expect it to close in the second half of 2018. But they still need regulatory approval.

In the second quarter, Aetna’s adjusted revenue fell slightly due partially to the sale of a group life insurance business last year. But it still matched analyst expectations at $15.46 billion.

Lower costs, taxes: The insurer’s benefit costs fell 4 percent to $10.67 billion, and income taxes plunged 30 percent to $449 million.

Benefit costs also dropped in the first quarter, helped by the insurer’s decision to retreat from the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. Aetna and some other big, national insurers like UnitedHealth Group Inc. backed away from that market after absorbing heavy losses.

Health insurance is Aetna’s main product, and most of its enrollment comes from commercial coverage sold through employers or directly to individuals. Total enrollment stayed largely flat at about 22 million in the quarter.

CVS Health Corp. wants to use that enrollment base to move deeper into managing customer health, mostly through the chain’s nearly 10,000 retail stores. The company plans to expand the health services it offers at those locations and get more involved in helping patients stay on their medicines or monitor chronic conditions like diabetes.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Wednesday that he is urging federal regulators to block the deal. Jones said he’s worried about the impact the combination will have on competition in Medicare prescription drug coverage and pharmacy benefit management. He added that typical solutions to these concerns, like requiring the companies to divest or sell some businesses, won’t work.

Shares of both Aetna and CVS slipped Wednesday, and the commissioner’s statement likely played a role, Leerink analyst Ana Gupte wrote. But she also noted that the ultimate decision on antitrust approval rests with federal regulators, not Jones.

Shares of Aetna Inc., based in Hartford, Connecticut, hit an all-time high price of $194.40 in January before retreating, but shares are still up more than 3 percent so far this year. They were essentially flat in early trading Thursday.


Portions of this story were generated by Automated Insights ( using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on AET at