(Reuters) - Health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N), which is trying to ditch a takeover bid by Anthem Inc (ANTM.N), said on Friday that first-quarter profit rose and it added hundreds of thousands of new members in its Obamacare individual business.
Cigna shares closed up 2.2 percent at $160.25.
Anthem also said on Friday it would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the Justice Department's disapproval of the $54 billion merger, which would create the largest U.S. health insurer by membership.
Analysts and antitrust experts said they expected the Supreme Court to decline to take the case.
Many insurers have lost money on the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and some of Cigna's largest competitors, including Aetna Inc (AET.N), have largely left the market.
Cigna's individual members, most of whom are on Obamacare, rose to 353,000 in the quarter from 193,000 a year ago, the company said in a statement.
The growth was expected, Cigna Chief Executive David Cordani told analysts on a conference call, adding that new members' medical costs are within expectations.
Cordani said it was too soon to discuss whether Cigna would participate next year in the individual insurance market, in which the government subsidizes healthcare costs based on income. Cigna has a small individual insurance business and manages large corporate and government health plans.
Insurers need to decide in the next few months but are waiting to see if Republicans fund the program's government subsidies as they push to replace Obamacare starting in 2019.
The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved an Obamacare replacement measure on Thursday but it faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Cigna raised its 2017 forecast for adjusted income from operations to $9.25 to $9.75 per share, from $9.00 to $9.50. Analysts' consensus estimate is $9.53.
Net income rose to $598 million, or $2.30 per share, in the first quarter, from $519 million, or $2.00 per share, a year earlier.
Excluding items, Cigna earned $2.77 per share, above the average analyst estimate of $2.45 according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Cordani declined on the conference call to discuss the Anthem merger.
Cigna sued in district court in Delaware to terminate the planned merger and Anthem won a temporary restraining order to block that move. A hearing is scheduled for Monday.
In another series of lawsuits, Anthem is fighting the Justice Department and 11 states in hopes of winning approval for the merger. It lost in both the district court and appeals court, which agreed that the merger would lead to more costly healthcare.
Cigna insists that Anthem owes it a $1.8 billion termination fee because the deal could not be completed.
Anthem likely rushed its petition to the Supreme Court in hopes of using it to press the Delaware judge to extend the preliminary injunction that prevented Cigna from walking away, said antitrust expert Matthew Cantor, of the law firm Constantine Cannon LLP, in an interview.
"I think that that judge should say 'No, I'm not going to extend" the injunction, said Cantor, pointing to Anthem's agreement that the deal could be scrapped if not completed by April 30.
Cantor said the chances that the Supreme Court would take the case was low and the chance of Anthem winning was even lower.
Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York, Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Richard Chang