During the COVID-19 epidemic, UnitedHealth Group exceeded quarterly profit predictions on Wednesday as its health-services business Optum showed robust growth and more people signed up for the insurer's government-backed plans.

Members of the largest U.S. health insurer's Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans for those over 65 or with disabilities climbed by more than 900,000 in 2021, according to the company.United Healthcare logo and symbol, meaning, history, PNG

Investor fears about the impact of increased competition on MA insurance plans, which are subsidized by the US government but administered by private insurers such as UnitedHealth, may be alleviated by the comments.

Humana, a competitor, lowered its MA plan growth forecast for 2022 earlier this month, sending the sector's stock lower.

UnitedHealth also maintained its adjusted earnings expectation of $21.10 to $21.60 per share for 2022. The insurer recorded a medical care ratio of 82.6 % for the full year, up from 79.1 % a year earlier due to COVID-19, which caused medical expenditures to vary throughout much of 2021. The %age of premiums paid out for medical care is represented by the ratio.

UnitedHealth's core business, which sells health insurance plans, had a 12 % increase in sales to $56.4 billion in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31.

Optum, which handles prescription benefits and provides healthcare data analytics services, saw a 14.5 % increase in revenue to $41.1 billion.

According to IBES data from Refinitiv, adjusted earnings came in at $4.48 per share, exceeding analysts' average estimate of $4.31 per share.