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UnitedHealth earnings: $2.11 per share, vs $2.07 expected

Shares of UnitedHealth edged higher in premarket trade on Tuesday after the company posted quarterly earnings that topped expectations, helped by an increase in its memberships.

The largest U.S. health insurer posted fourth-quarter earnings of $2.11 per share on revenue of $47.523 billion.

Analysts expected UnitedHealth to report $2.07 per share on revenue of $47.13 billion, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.

"We are privileged today to serve more people in more ways than ever before, and we know further growth in 2017 and beyond rests on continuing to drive ever higher quality and increasing value to consumers, care providers and customers across our spectrum of businesses," UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said in a release.

The company said it "grew to serve 2.2 million more people with medical benefits," through improving health outcomes, customer satisfaction and increased value.

The company also saw strength in its pharmacy benefit management business.

The company said revenues grew 18 percent year-over-year to $185 billion.

The company affirmed its 2017 outlook of earnings of $9.30 to $9.60 per share and revenues of $197 billion to $199 billion.

UnitedHealth is the first major health insurer to report earnings, as Republicans in Congress have taken steps toward the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

President-elect Donald Trump has said a plan to "repeal-and-replace" Obamacare would be submitted after the Senate approves his nominee, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., for secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

The company has said it will pull out of the Obamacare exchanges as it was unable to make money on the plans. But the lack of details on a replacement is creating uncertainty for the entire industry.

Earlier this month, UnitedHealth's Optum unit said it would buy Surgical Care Affiliates for about $2.3 billion.

The deal would create a comprehensive ambulatory care services platform, including primary care, urgent care and surgical care services.

—Reuters contributed to this report.