UnitedHealth Group Announces Plans To Restructure Business
On Wednesday, UnitedHealth Group lowered its earnings guidance because of reduced commercial businesses and higher-than-expected Medicare-related costs and said it would restructure the company with a greater focus on regional coverage, the Chicago Tribune reports (Chicago Tribune, 7/3).
The insurer projected that profit would drop about 16% from earlier estimates (Forster, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 7/2). Overall, the company expects earnings to be cut by about $1.1 billion, including $400 million related to problems in its commercial business and $500 million related to problems with its Medicare prescription drug benefit plan.
UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said, "There are other elements which combined to negatively impact our earnings expectations by a further $200 million," adding, "Behavioral health utilization trends are up sharply this year due to the greater use of services directly related to the troubled economic environment as well as due to parity benefit changes in New York."
In addition, the company expects to lose 800,000 people from fully insured plans this year. The company said it has been forced by competition to reduce premiums more than expected for new and renewed customer accounts.
UnitedHealth spokesperson Don Nathan said, "The current economic environment means that potential customers are much more price sensitive," adding, "The market for commercial employer-sponsored insurance has not been increasing, it's been contracting."
In a note to investors on Wednesday, Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Borsch wrote that UnitedHealth had been more direct that other insurers in acknowledging the effects of competition on earnings across the industry. Borsch wrote, "There is no easy fix here: We believe industry margins will move lower in 2009-2010" (Snowbeck, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 7/2).
The company said it would cut 4,000 jobs as part of its restructuring plan (Dunbar, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/2).