Dental claims take a bite of NIB earnings
Australia's sole ASX-listed health insurer, NIB, has flagged year to June earnings will come in at the bottom end of the range signalled to the market, in the wake of a series of one-off factors.
The pre-tax profit was forecast earlier in a range of $75 million to $78 million.
Premium income for the full year is forecast at between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion.
Pressuring earnings were higher than forecast dental claims, an "unsatisfactory" April 1, 2012, price rise of 5.5 per cent, along with a one-off state levy totalling $2.3 million.
Overall, NIB has forecast net policyholder growth of between 4 and 5 per cent for the financial year.
NIB has been in the spotlight following its purchase for $81.3million of New Zealand-based Tower's health insurance arm last year, with concern NIB may have overpaid for the asset.
NIB had earlier tried to make a series of domestic acquisitions, with no success. In the year to June, NIB has forecast a $5 million to $7million net underwriting profit contribution from NZ.
Even though Tower NZ has 13.5per cent of the local market, ranking it second behind the dominant player, the mutually owned Southern Cross which has a 66 per cent market share, most of the remaining health insurers are subsidiaries of larger groups such as the Commonwealth Bank or are affiliated with local provident societies, which limits growth opportunities.
Equally important to lifting the contribution from New Zealand to NIB's near-term earnings prospects is stemming losses from its international student health insurance arm, which totalled $1.3million last financial year.
By the end of June, NIB anticipates having an estimated 9000 international student policies in force, up nearly three-fold over the past year.
"Strong policyholder sales volume means we are approaching critical mass for the business," NIB told analysts. It also said pricing was "becoming more rational" in the sector with new product design improving the claims experience.
NIB said it has been pursuing more policyholders overall through the "broker" channel, which while costing less to procure, has brought with it a higher lapse rate.