UPDATE 2-Centene raises 2014 revenue growth forecast after contract win

Vrinda Manocha
Tuesday, 22 Oct 2013 | 1:17 PM ET

* Says early to draw conclusions from enrollments at healthcare exchanges

* Raises revenue growth forecast to 20 pct from 15 pct

* Shares rise as much as 3 pct

Oct 22 (Reuters) - Health insurer Centene Corp raised its revenue growth forecast for 2014 based on a new Medicaid contract win in Florida and expansion of others.

Shares of the company rose as much as 3 percent.

The company, which raised its revenue growth forecast to 20 percent from 15 percent, said it was too early to draw conclusions from the enrollment numbers at healthcare exchanges, online marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Technical glitches have so far prevented many from even registering on the exchanges run by the federal government. The exchanges started enrollments from Oct. 1.

Centene confirmed that glitches stopped consumers from accessing its plans, which are currently listed on federal exchanges in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas.

"... some of the expectations about a bumpy October became more widespread, we certainly adjusted our expectations that October was going to be more of a slow ramp as opposed to a big bang in terms of enrollment," Executive Vice President Rone Baldwin said on a post-earnings conference call with analysts.

Under the ACA, small insurers including Centene were expected to benefit from offering insurance on exchanges in states such as Mississippi, which large insurers do not wish to enter.

"The comment on the call reaffirmed the headlines that the exchanges still have fairly low activity levels and there's difficulty in getting through the process of enrolling in a plan," Jefferies analyst David Windley told Reuters.

Baldwin said the company was having a better experience in the state-based exchanges of Massachusetts and Washington.

Centene's 2014 revenue could get a further boost if states expanded their Medicaid coverage next year, Windley said.

States have an option to expand their Medicaid programs for the poor and disabled under the ACA. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have agreed to expand their programs.

"We've heard that some states might expand Medicaid towards the middle of next year, and if that were to happen, that would be a boost to their opportunity, but visibility on that is pretty low," Windley said.

Centene raised its full-year premium and services revenue forecast to $10.6 billion-$10.8 billion, from $10.3 billion-$10.6 billion it forecast in July.

The insurer issues forecasts for premium and services, which account for about 98 percent of its revenue.

Premium and services revenue rose 24 percent to $2.73 billion in the third quarter.

Net earnings attributable to Centene rose to $49.4 million, or 87 cents per share, from $3.8 million, or 7 cents per share, a year earlier.

The company earned 88 cents per share, excluding losses from its exit from Kentucky in July and other items. Analysts had expected 84 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total revenue rose 14 percent to $2.80 billion, above analysts' estimates of $2.68 billion.

Shares of the company were up about 1 percent at $66.70 at 12:37 ET on the New York Stock Exchange. They rose as much as 3 percent earlier.

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