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UPDATE 2-Cigna first-quarter profit beat estimates, raises 2019 forecasts

(Adds background, details on medical care ratio, analyst comment)

May 2 (Reuters) - Cigna Corp beat estimates for quarterly profit and raised its 2019 forecasts on Thursday, as the health insurer benefited from its $52 billion acquisition of Express Scripts that allows its customers access to new pharmacy benefits services.

The company's first-quarter results were also aided by its health plans business for large and medium-sized corporations, as well as government plans like Medicare for people aged 65 and above and the disabled.

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Steven Halper said Cigna's fundamentals remained strong with a revenue growth of nearly 13 percent at its integrated medical unit that sells commercial and government health plans.

The Express Scripts acquisition has put Cigna in direct competition with CVS Health Corp, which recently bought health insurer Aetna Inc, as well as UnitedHealth Group Inc and its in-house pharmacy benefits unit, Optum.

The company's medical care ratio - the amount it spends on medical claims compared to income from premiums - was 78.9 percent in the quarter, beating consensus estimates of 79.4 percent, according to Evercore ISI.

The health insurer raised its full-year forecast for adjusted income from operations to between $16.25 and $16.65 per share from between $16 and $16.50 per share.

Cigna also raised its 2019 adjusted revenue forecast to between $132.50 billion and $134.50 billion from between $131.5 billion and $133.50 billion.

The company said its total customer base at the end of March 31 was 168.2 million, compared with 97.2 million a year earlier.

Excluding items, Cigna earned $3.90 per share in the quarter, beating the average analyst estimate of $3.73 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Its net income rose 49.5 percent to $1.37 billion in the quarter.

The company reported adjusted revenue of $33.43 billion and beat estimates of $33.11 billion. (Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and James Emmanuel)