Cigna Sees Choice on Drug-Benefits Unit by First Half ’13

Cigna Corp. (CI), the third-biggest U.S. health insurer, expects to decide the future of its pharmacy- benefits unit by the first half of 2013, Chief Executive Officer David Cordani said.

Cigna is exploring “a variety of options” for the division that manages prescription benefits, Cordani said today in an interview in New York. The Bloomfield, Connecticut-based company’s choices range from a sale to extending its existing contract with Catamaran Corp. (CTRX), the CEO said.

The insurer said in March that it was considering a sale, after its purchase this year of Medicare carrier Healthspring Inc. increased the division’s value. The unit may be worth $1.5 billion, Ana Gupte, a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst in New York, said at the time. Catamaran’s contract with Cigna expires at the end of next year, Cordani said today.

“If you think about that time frame, I have to have a decision by first half of 2013 and some clarity about the value proposition for my customers,” the CEO said.

Cigna fell 1.8 percent to $49.96 at 3:10 p.m. New York time. At a presentation for analysts earlier in the day, Chief Financial Officer Ralph Nicoletti said the company expected 2013 earnings of $5.80 to $6.25 a share, below the average analyst estimate of $6.33. Catamaran, based in Lisle, Illinois, rose 1.2 percent to $47.50.

Benefit Managers

Benefit managers serve governments, unions and private employers. A purchase by Catamaran would continue a wave of consolidation in the industry, including Express Scripts Holding Co. (ESRX)’s $29.1 billion acquisition this year of Medco Health Solutions Inc. Catamaran, the fourth-biggest manager, is looking to keep pace after it was formed in April when SXC Health Solutions Corp. agreed to buy rival Catalyst Health Solutions Inc. for about $4.4 billion.

Healthspring was SXC’s largest customer, accounting for 40 percent of the company’s $5 billion in revenue last year, SXC said in a regulatory filing Feb. 24.

Cigna shares initially fell after the 2013 earnings projection was below analyst expectations. While the company expects enrollment to grow 1 percent to 2 percent next year, it also is projecting “gradually” higher medical costs and didn’t factor in any share repurchases, Nicoletti said.

“We believe our near- and longer-term outlooks are attractive,” the CFO said.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH), based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, is the biggest health plan by market value.

Health insurers generally have predicted higher medical costs and lower profit, and then beaten their projections in recent years, said Sarah James, a Wedbush Securities Inc. analyst, in an interview.

“It’s very typical in the sector for people to guide low on earnings and raise throughout the year,” she said. “There may be some upside there.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

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