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Premiums will jump if health insurance fee returns, UnitedHealth CEO warns

UnitedHealth Group Inc. and the rest of the managed care industry will raise premiums if the federal health insurance fee returns, CEO David Wichmann said.

Should Congress not defer the fee or repeal it altogether, the industry will "build it into premiums," Wichmann said during the company's third-quarter earnings call.

The health insurance fee, also known as the health insurance tax, is levied on health insurers to help pay for the Affordable Care Act. It was deferred for a year, until 2019, after a successful push in January to include the deferment in a government funding measure.

CFO John Rex said the tax will negatively impact earnings by about 38 cents per share should it return, about half the amount it projected a year ago before the tax was deferred by Congress.

"I see it as a negative. I see the return as a negative for the people, for the industry, for business, for society broadly," Wichmann said. The fee will lead to "dissatisfaction" among consumers as the company has seen in the past when premiums rise, he added.

UnitedHealth executives are confident that the company will reach its long-term growth targets no matter what happens with the fee. In its earnings report, the insurer raised its full-year guidance for net earnings per share to $12.10 from a prior range of $11.80 to $12.05.