estimates@ (Adds analyst comments, details on quarter, share price)
Feb 6 (Reuters) - Cigna Corp forecast 2020 revenue well above Street targets on Thursday, benefiting from its $52 billion deal for pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, and beat fourth-quarter profit estimates as it carefully managed costs.
The acquisition has allowed Cigna to create one of the biggest providers of pharmacy benefits and insurance plans in the United States.
It has also helped it cut costs and compete with industry giants like CVS Health Corp, which bought health insurer Aetna Inc, and UnitedHealth Group Inc's Optum pharmacy benefits unit.
The company, which closed its deal for Express Scripts in 2018, said it expects adjusted revenue of between $154 billion and $156 billion in 2020, beating the average analysts' estimate of $148.73 billion.
"Cigna is clearly still growing post Express Scripts deal as this implies top line gains of 10%-11% in 2020," Stephens analyst Scott Fidel said.
While Cigna's medical care ratio, which compares expenses for medical claims with income from premiums, worsened in the quarter ended Dec. 31, it met expectations of 82.3%.
This is in contrast to medical costs for three major health insurers that have missed estimates in the fourth quarter, pressured by higher claims from the flu season and the suspension of the industry-wide health insurance fee.
Cigna attributed the year-over-year increase in medical costs to the suspension of the fee and higher costs in its unit that offers health plans for individuals.
Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Steven Halper said in a note the slight rise could be attributed to the Express Scripts deal, which carried costs to Cigna's health insurance business from Medicare Part D plans, which cover prescription drugs.
Cigna forecast 2020 adjusted profit of between $18 and $18.60 per share. Analysts were expecting $18.59.
In the reported quarter, net income rose to $977 million, or $2.60 per share from $144 million, or 55 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding items, the company earned $4.31 per share, beating the average analysts' estimate of $4.20, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Cigna's adjusted revenue rose to $36.54 billion in the quarter, ahead of expectations of $35.07 billion.
Shares of the Bloomfield, Connecticut based company rose 2.65% to $211.96 before the bell.
(Reporting by Tamara Mathias and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)