(Adds details on benefit expense ratio, analyst comment)
July 25 (Reuters) - Anthem Inc raised its full-year adjusted earnings forecast, as the health insurer reported better-than-expected profit on Wednesday, driven by higher premiums and lower patient medical costs.
The company's tight control over patient costs helped it improve its benefit expense ratio to 83.4 percent from 86.1 percent in the year-ago period. The figure is widely watched in the sector because it measures an insurer's expenses on claims against the premiums it earns.
Last week, larger rival UnitedHealth Group reported a benefit expense ratio that missed analysts' estimates, overshadowing better-than-expected earnings.
In contrast to the debates around UnitedHealth and Centene Corp earnings, Anthem's results is a cleaner benefit expense ratio-driven beat and raise that still includes conservatism for the second half of the year, Evercore ISI analyst Michael Newshel said in a note.
Despite solid results, Anthem said medical enrollment fell about 2.2 percent to 39.5 million members at the end of the quarter. The company, which has cut the number of markets where it will offer Obamacare individual plans in 2018, said the reduced footprint as well membership losses in Medicaid led to a decline in members.
The Trump administration has been issuing new rules and regulations to roll back some of the insurance coverage expansion that took place with Obamacare, former President Barack Obama's 2010 health law.
Anthem said net income rose 23 percent to $1.05 billion, or $3.98 per share, in the second quarter ended June 30.
Excluding items, the company earned $4.25 per share, ahead of analysts' average estimate of $4.16, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Total revenue rose 2.4 percent to $22.94 billion. Operating revenue was $22.71 billion, compared with the analysts' estimate of $22.69 billion.
The company said it now expects 2018 adjusted earnings to be greater than $15.40 per share, up from its previous estimate of earnings of greater than $15.30 per share. (Reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)