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UPDATE 1-Health insurer Anthem profit beats, raises 2019 earnings forecast

(Compares with estimates)

Oct 23 (Reuters) - Anthem Inc reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday as it benefited from higher sales of its government-backed health plans, prompting the health insurer to raise its full-year profit forecast.

The company, which earlier this year launched pharmacy benefits business IngenioRx, forecast adjusted 2019 earnings of more than $19.40 per share, up from its prior view of more than$19.30.

Operating revenue from its government business, which sells Medicare and Medicaid health plans, rose 14% to $15.96 billion.

The company said its benefit expense ratio the percentage

of premiums paid for medical services worsened to 87.2% from

84.8% a year earlier. Analysts on average expected 86.59%, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. A lower benefit expense ratio is better for health insurers.

Net income rose to $1.18 billion, or $4.55 per share, in the third quarter ended Sept. 30 from $960 million, or $3.62 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned $4.87 per share, ahead of the average analyst estimate of $4.82 per share.

Total operating revenue rose 15% to $26.44 billion, beating estimates of $25.88 billion. (Reporting by Tamara Mathias and Trisha Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)