On a quarterly basis, publicly traded companies provide an update of their financial results during what’s known as an “earnings call.” Earnings calls allow companies to provide a glimpse into major business developments over the quarter, including where they stand financially, whether they’ve gained or lost business, and how they expect to perform over the following quarter. These calls are open to the public via webcasts and dial-ins, which can be found on a company’s financial or investor relation’s page (see table below). However, they mostly target shareholders and financial analysts who welcome the opportunity to glean what they can about the company’s financial status and future performance, as it may have a direct impact on investors’ wallets.
|Investor Page||Earnings Calls / Annual Shareholder Meetings|
|UnitedHealth||Not yet scheduled|
|WellCare||Not yet scheduled|
Earnings calls often coincide with a press release of major highlights, and begin with a statement by top executives who then take questions from financial analysts. While financial analysts rely on these calls to update their models and price targets—for the health policy community, these calls can provide useful insight into a company’s strategic thinking, which cannot otherwise be found in forecast or projection filings. Comments made on the calls often shed light on what companies perceive are emerging market trends and they introduce perspectives on how companies may be faring as they adjust to various market reforms and regulations.
For instance, last month, all major health insurers concluded their fourth quarter (Q4) earnings calls for 2015 and several companies used the opportunity to comment on Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace participation and special enrollment periods (SEPs). With regard to marketplace participation, UnitedHealth highlighted steps it is taking to stabilize its marketplace business after threatening to withdraw from the exchanges for 2017, stating:
“We are not pursuing membership growth and have taken a comprehensive set of actions to contain membership and sharpen performance over the balance of 2016. We have strong platinum products, increased prices, eliminated marketing and commissions…”
These comments confirm what many policy analysts witnessed back in the fall, when insurers first began to express concern over SEPs and some acted to restrict enrollment by cutting agent/broker commissions. Likewise, in response to CMS’ elimination of certain SEPs and clarification of eligibility rules, several insurers used their quarterly call to applaud CMS for tightening consumers’ ability to enroll through SEPs, including Anthem, which commented:
“…we are certainly very observant of the shifts and changes that the administration is enacting, especially paying a lot of attention to special enrollment period…I suspect there may be more changes in the near future which we want to consider very carefully so that we can judge the sustainability of the exchange marketplace…”
These comments, along with several others, provide additional color on what insurers consider to be current challenges, while allowing companies a platform to highlight what actions they are taking to remain successful in the evolving market.
As with all resources, policy analysts should view these calls with a critical eye. Most statements are prepared prior to the call and are carefully crafted to reflect a company’s strategic priorities. Nevertheless, when taken with a grain of salt, earnings calls can be used as a tool to better understand how the insurer sector is reacting to ACA implementation. Over the last year, earnings calls have revealed important trends in medical claims, adjustments to plan designs, and cuts to broker commissions, all of which stand to impact the consumer community. Staying abreast of how insurers view these developments is important to shaping the policy environment. Next month, insurers will begin to host their first quarter earnings calls for 2016, which are likely to provide interesting insights on the fourth open enrollment period.