(Bloomberg) -- WellPoint Inc., the second-biggest U.S. health insurer by market capitalization, raised forecasts for profit and membership of its medical plans as earnings beat estimates.

Third-quarter earnings per share excluding one-time items were $2.36, WellPoint said in a statement today, beating the $2.26 average of 22 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. On that basis the company raised its full-year earnings forecast to a range of $8.75 to $8.85 a share, from a previous prediction of more than $8.60.

WellPoint and other insurers are adding customers as people buy insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law that requires all Americans to have health insurance and provides subsidies and online shopping markets for them to do so. The insurer said medical enrollment climbed by 259,000 in the quarter.

Medical membership for the full year will be in the range of 37.2 million to 37.3 million, WellPoint said today, compared with an earlier forecast of 37.1 million to 37.2 million.

Third-quarter net income fell to $630.9 million, or $2.22 per share, from $656.2 million, or $2.16, a year earlier.

WellPoint will offer plans under Obamacare in 14 states next year, while UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation’s largest insurer, is expanding to as many as two dozen states. About 7.3 million Americans were enrolled in plans through the exchanges as of mid-August, according to the U.S.

The Congressional Budget Office expects about 13 million people to sign up for Affordable Care Act plans next year. Penalties for Americans who choose to go without coverage double in 2015 to as much as 2 percent of their incomes, which may drive increased business to the insurers.

Next year under the law, 11 million people will be covered by Medicaid, the government program for the poor, according to the Congressional Budget Office, up from 7 million this year.

--With assistance from Alex Wayne in Washington. 

 

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