Health insurance giant WellPoint Inc. has signed up 500,000 people for Obamacare policies across the country, and it struck an upbeat tone Wednesday about early enrollment trends under the healthcare law.
WellPoint, which runs Anthem Blue Cross plans in California and 13 other states, said new enrollees tend to be older than current customers but that enrollment is in line with its projections and pricing for the new policies.
"We do feel good about what we’ve seen in the exchanges so far," WellPoint Chief Executive Joseph Swedish said during an earnings conference call with analysts and investors.
"The changes that are facing our industry are admittedly very substantial, and it still remains very early in the year," Swedish added.
In California's exchange, Anthem has staked an early lead through Dec. 31, 2013, with 155,146 enrollees, or a 31% share of the market. The Indianapolis-based company said that figure was a "reasonable proxy" for its performance in other states where it sells exchange policies.
WellPoint said it didn't know yet how many of its enrollees were previously uninsured. The company did say that about 80% of those customers were new to WellPoint.
The positive outlook came as WellPoint reported a 68% drop in fourth-quarter profit, hurt by a loss on the sale of an eyewear business.
The Obama administration has said that 3 million Americans have signed up under the Affordable Care Act after a disastrous rollout in October for the HealthCare.gov website.
Some analysts have expressed concern about the low turnout of younger people, who tend to be healthier and are vital to balance out the costs of older, sicker policyholders.
Meantime, many of Anthem's new customers in California and other states have expressed frustration at the company for dismal customer service. They have had trouble getting confirmation of coverage or identification cards so they can get prescriptions filled or see the doctor.
On the conference call, Swedish said the volume of applications has been higher than expected but that company employees "are working diligently to assist members during this time. We appreciate their patience."
WellPoint said bills have been processed and insurance cards sent out for the "vast majority" of people who signed up for Jan. 1 coverage.
Shares of WellPoint climbed $1.42, or nearly 2%, to $85.72 in midday trading on Wall Street on Wednesday.
WellPoint reported net income of $148.2 million, or 49 cents per share. That was down from $464.2 million, or $1.51 a share, in the same period a year ago.
Revenue in the quarter grew 16% to $17.9 billion, reflecting the addition of the Amerigroup Medicaid business acquired by the company.
The company ended last year with overall enrollment of 35.7 million people, down 1.3% from the year earlier. WellPoint reiterated that 2014 profit is expected to top $8 a share.
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