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Anthem reports decrease in profits for Q4, but that’s not the full story

On January 27, Fierce Healthcare (and others) reported that Anthem’s 2020 Q4 profits fell short of Wall Street's projections. But, looking at 2020 in aggregate, it’s clear Anthem is yet another insurer that followed the path to pandemic profits, even as patients were forced to delay elective care. 

Anthem recently reported $551 million in 2020 Q4 profits, a drop of 41% compared to the $943 million the insurer reported in Q4 of 2019. While at first glance, 41% may appear to be a heavy loss, Anthem’s earnings remained higher than its industry average. In fact, Anthem pulled in $121.9 billion in 2020, a 17% increase from 2019.

A big part of that growth in 2020 came from a booming Medicare Advantage market. Anthem alone was up 18% in 2020, capturing 1.4 million new Medicare Advantage members—out 1.9 million new members total in 2020—resulting in a total count of 42.9 million members as of the end of December 2020. What this means is that more people signed up for their insurance in 2020. But for many people, elective procedures were not even available for the majority of the year. This left many paying for coverage with little to no utilization.

Sure, utilization is slowly returning to normal levels as the vaccine rollout is underway. Still, the consequences of COVID-19 linger in delays of elective procedures and continue to contribute to physician burnout and limited services.

The uncertainty of when things will get back to normal—whatever that looks like—begs an important question: Will consumers get their money back if they’ve paid for coverage that wasn’t used? Anthem’s chief financial officer is projecting double digital growth at the midpoint of 2021 for Medicare Advantage, which could result in a lot of unused coverage. We’ll let Anthem’s mid-year earnings report speak for itself as to whether or not members can expect some relief.

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