UPDATE 3-Flu boosts HCA patient volume in fourth quarter
* Q4 EPS 92 cents ex legal costs tops view 82 cents
* Admissions to hospitals owned at least a year up 4.3 pct
* Emergency room visits jump 12.7 percent
* Sees impact of health reform phasing in over several years
* Shares climb almost 4 percent before pulling back
Feb 5 (Reuters) - HCA Holdings Inc, the largest U.S. for-profit hospital operator, reported lower quarterly net earnings due to costs to settle legal claims, but its revenue got a boost from treating more patients in a severe flu season.
An early and unusually intense flu season is creating more business for hospitals, pharmacies and their suppliers but putting a dent in insurers' profits. Humana Inc on Monday reported higher costs for flu-related hospital visits, calling it the worst flu season in a decade.
HCA said on Tuesday its fourth-quarter earnings excluding special items exceeded expectations on stronger-than-expected patient volume, with emergency room visits jumping 12.7 percent in part due to the people seeking treatment for the flu.
"Overall, these results were strong as the flu season and continued solid market share gains led to robust adjusted admissions growth," Oppenheimer analyst Michael Wiederhorn said in a note to clients.
Net income fell to $314 million, or 68 cents per share, from $1.94 billion, or $4.25 a share, a year earlier, when one-time gains from facilities sales and an investment boosted earnings.
Excluding legal expenses in the latest quarter, Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA reported earnings of 92 cents per share.
Analysts, on average, expected 82 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization fell 2 percent to $1.61 billion.
Revenue increased 8.5 percent to $8.43 billion in the quarter.
Admissions to hospitals operated at least one year rose 4.3 percent. Admissions to facilities operated for at least a year, combined with outpatient volumes, increased 5 percent.
HCA expects 2013 earnings, excluding items, in a range of $3.00 to $3.30 per share, on revenue of $33.5 billion to $34.5 billion.
Shares of HCA rose almost 4 percent in Tuesday morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange before paring gains to trade at $37.61, unchanged from the close on Monday.