Anthem shares soar to record high as insurer speeds pharmacy contract, issues rosy 2019 earnings outlook

The Anthem Inc. Anthem Anywhere application is seen in the App Store on an Apple Inc. iPhone displayed for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Anthem Inc. Anthem Anywhere application is seen in the App Store on an Apple Inc. iPhone displayed for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

Shares of health insurer Anthem soared to a record high Wednesday after it announced plans to roll out its new pharmacy benefits management unit IngenioRx sooner than expected and issued earnings guidance for this year that also beat forecasts.

"IngenioRx will improve our ability to integrate pharmacy benefits within our already strong medical and specialty platform driving greater value for the consumer and increasing transparency, " explained Anthem CEO Gail
Boudreaux on the company's earnings conference call, adding "to date we have completed more than 15 months of preparation against our transition goal. The results of our operational testing have been very positive giving us confidence in our readiness to launch."

Anthem's shares soared as much as 12.2 percent to an all-time, intraday high of $305.99 a share.

Anthem contracted with CVS Health to help launch its own pharmacy benefits manager in 2020, after a public dispute with its previous contractor Express Scripts over high fees. Anthem estimates once the transition to IngenioRx is completed next year, it will see roughly $4 billion in annual savings. Executives pledged to return at least 20 percent of those savings to shareholders.

Executives were less specific in response to analyst questions about how much customers would see in savings. Pharmacy benefits managers are a type of middle man working between the drug makers and pharmacies and consumers.

"Our customers will see value upon conversion to the new platform, so we think that there's a significant opportunity to drive meaningful value for them in terms of affordability as well as the member and consumer experience," said Boudreaux.

While it would be working with commercial customers about transitioning off of the current Express Scripts contracts over the course of the year, the insurer said that its Medicare Advantage plans will not be converted to IngenioRx until next year.

Cigna, which acquired Express Scripts in the fourth quarter of last year, said the early transition would not impact its outlook for 2019, because it had not included Anthem revenues in its guidance.

Anthem shares surged after reporting adjusted fourth quarter profits of $2.44 per share, 24 cents above the Refinitiv average analyst estimate of $2.20 per share. Revenues were slightly below expectations at $23.3 billion.

The stronger profits were driven by lower administrative fees and slightly medical costs than estimates, and higher premium revenues than expected.

For 2019, Anthem is now forecasting annual earnings of more $19 per share, and revenues over $100 billion.

—By Bertha Coombs. Follow her on Twitter: @coombscnbc