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On the Call: WellPoint CEO John Cannon

The Associated Press

WellPoint Inc. reported on Wednesday that its fourth-quarter profit grew 38 percent, the health insurer's second quarter of improved earnings after a string of quarterly disappointments.

The Indianapolis insurer said it expects 2013 earnings of at least $7.60 per share, compared with the $8.18 per share it earned last year. But interim CEO John Cannon said he expects adjusted earnings to grow modestly in 2013, not counting one-time items like integration costs tied to its recently completed acquisition of Amerigroup.

WellPoint leaders have said they see 2013 and 2014 as years of investing to take advantage of future growth opportunities. That includes growth through the health care overhaul: Next year millions of people will be able to buy coverage through new online exchanges, some with help from income-based tax credits.

JP Morgan analyst Justin Lake asked for more insight into the company's expectations for next year, but Cannon declined to get specific.

QUESTION: You've talked about having confidence in sustained operating income growth over the next several years. Should we take that to mean that your early view on 2014 is that operating earnings should be up, year-over-year?

RESPONSE: Obviously it's premature to project into 2014. I would say that at this point certainly our intention is to grow, and we are positioning the company to do that, and I've outlined a number of those initiatives for you today as well as previously. But, overall, I would say that growth is our objective.