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Insurer WellPoint raises 2014 earnings forecast

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TOM MURPHY | March 21, 2014 07:32 AM EST | AP

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — WellPoint has already raised a 2014 earnings forecast it laid out earlier this year, but projections from the nation's second-largest health insurer are still below analyst expectations.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer, based in Indianapolis, said Friday that it now expects full-year earnings to be greater than $8.20 per share. It also forecast that operating revenue, which excludes investment gains or losses, will grow about 4 percent to $73 billion. WellPoint had said in late January that it expected earnings to be greater than $8 per share.

Analysts forecast earnings of $8.37 per share on $73.45 billion in operating revenue.

WellPoint is selling coverage on 14 state-based health insurance exchanges created through the federal health care overhaul, a law designed to help millions of uninsured people. Those exchanges started accepting enrollment for 2014 last fall, but many customers were left frustrated by technical glitches and frequent crashes, especially on the federal website, the main conduit for enrollment in many states.

Government officials have said the websites are running much better now.

WellPoint CEO Joseph Swedish said in a statement on Friday that the exchanges "are tracking our general expectations," and the company was encouraged so far by results across its business.

The exchanges make up a relatively small slice of WellPoint's overall business, which also includes employer-sponsored coverage and enrollment in the government's Medicare and Medicaid programs. The insurer said its total medical enrollment could grow 3 percent or 4 percent this year to almost 37 million people. It trails only UnitedHealth Group Inc. in both revenue and enrollment.

WellPoint Inc. shares climbed 69 cents to $100.40 in premarket trading Friday.

The stock hit an all-time high price of $100.59 on Wednesday, according to FactSet.