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Top 5 Largest Health Insurance Payers in the United States

These top five health insurance payers hold the largest net revenue and members.

largest health insurance payers

Source: Thinkstock

By Jesse Migneault

- The Affordable Care Act has been a divisive policy for the public and politicians, but since 2010 it has been a financial boon for the top five giants of the health insurance payer industry. 

The expanding customer base created by the ACA, along with higher returns for investors, have pushed revenues and membership for the ‘Big Five’ to year after year gains.

Even though some healthcare payers are pulling out of the state exchanges, others have made plans to expand into new ones, or even into verticals such as dental, government, pharmacy and global. 

The recent flurry of merger and acquisition talks has brought up questions about monopolies and legal challenges, but outlooks for these ‘Big Five’ stocks are solid.  The current year to date (YTD) stock value gains show investors’ confidence in a profitable healthcare payer business structure for the future.

Based on data from April of 2017, here is a rundown of the top five largest health insurance payers in the US.

1.United Health Group

2016 Net Revenues: $184.8B

Subscribers: 70 million

YTD NYSE: +3.62

Rev Growth (3 yr avg):  +14.7

United Health Group incorporates a network of over 1 million physicians and 6,000 hospitals.   Optum, its integrated information and technology platform, is in use in 4 out of 5 hospitals in the US, serving 115 million individuals and close to 300 health plans.  This includes Optum Rx, the pharmacy care service, which works with CMS and private groups in 67,000 pharmacies across the nation.

2. Anthem (formerly Wellpoint-Anthem)

2016 Net Revenues: $89.1 B

Subscribers: 39.9 million

YTD NYSE: +16.46

Rev Growth (3 yr avg):  +6.1

As Anthem continues with it stalled attempt to merger  with Cigna , the carrier has continued to maintain its presence as the nation’s second largest health payer.

“Our fourth quarter 2016 core earnings and financial metrics tracked well versus our expectations,” said Joseph Swedish, president and CEO in a recent statement.  “We are well positioned for a successful 2017, building off of improved business momentum in the second half of 2016."

3. Aetna 

2016 Net Revenues: $63.1B

Subscribers: 23.1 million

YTD NYSE: + 4.44

Rev Growth (3 yr avg):  +10.1

Formed in 1853, this Hartford, Connecticut based insurer has always had an eye for growth and expanding markets.  In 2013 it acquired Coventry Health Care, substantially boosting its membership base. 

In 2014 Aetna went global by acquiring UK based InterGlobal Group giving it an entry to private health insurance markets throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.  However, 2015 brought a failed attempt to take over one of its chief competitors, Humana.  Since then, Aetna has withdrawn from many of the state ACA markets.

4. Humana

2016 Net Revenues: $54.3B

Subscribers: 14.2 million

YTD NYSE: +4.35

Rev Growth (3 yr avg):  +9.6

Founded in 1961 in Louisville, KY, Humana was originally a long-term care provider that grew into a health industry giant.  Humana sold its LTC empire in 1974 and built a network of investor-owned hospitals. Today, Humana operates a provider network of approximately 50,000 associates across the country.  According to the company’s mission statement, Humana has made a commitment to make every community it serves 20 percent healthier by 2020 by providing people easy access to better healthcare. 

5. Cigna

2016 Net Revenues: $39.7B

Subscribers: 15 million

YTD NYSE: +13.63

Rev Growth (3 yr avg):  +7.0

Formed by a merger in 1982 between the INA Corporation and Connecticut General Corporation, this global health service company has found success while incorporating dental and Medicare verticals, offering Medicare prescription plans in all 50 states.

From 2008 to the present, Cigna has continued to expand its services to different regions of the US and internationally.  Cigna was ranked 90 on the 2015 Fortune 500 list. 

Editor’s note: Net revenue and membership data was collected from the companies 2016 financials and shareholder filings.  Current NYSE data by Morningstar.


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