Major PBMs reported strong results for the first quarter of 2020 as members rushed to fill prescriptions in March ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, financial analysts warn the pandemic could have unpredictable effects on PBMs’ finances for the rest of 2020 and moving into 2021, AIS Health reported.

The 2021 PBM selling season could be disrupted in still-unknown ways, analysts said, and members are cutting back on routine physician visits and elective procedures, resulting in lower script volume overall.

Anthem, Inc., posted a particularly strong start for its new IngenioRx PBM, with earnings of $349 million, well above the $275 million to $300 million quarterly earnings that had been expected.

The impact from COVID-19 included a large spike in prescription refills during March, which helped the PBM’s performance, Anthem Executive Vice President and CFO John Gallina said in the company’s earnings conference call. Still, investors shouldn’t expect script numbers to remain elevated, he added: “We have seen a slight drop in new scripts here in April over historical patterns.”

CVS Health Corp. reported first-quarter earnings per share (EPS) of $1.91, well above what analysts had anticipated. Citi analyst Ralph Giacobbe wrote in a May 6 investor note that the company’s Caremark PBM “put up solid results with revenue and operating profit also exceeding consensus with higher claims growth of 12.4%.” This was “aided by pull-forward of scripts due to COVID-19,” plus the partnership between CVS and Anthem on IngenioRx.

Cigna Corp.’s first-quarter adjusted EPS came in 8% above consensus, with better-than-anticipated performances in its Health Services unit, which houses PBM Express Scripts, and in its Integrated Medical segment. Health Services reported an operating profit of $1.08 billion, slightly ahead of expectations, with revenue well ahead of projections — $27.2 billion versus $25.1 billion expected, noted Giacobbe.

At UnitedHealth Group, earnings for Optum, the division that includes OptumRx, missed analysts’ expectations by about 5%, despite stronger-than-expected revenue, Jefferies equities analyst David Windley wrote in a note to investors. “OptumHealth and OptumRx both contributed to the underperformance,” which was offset by stronger-than-expected performance by OptumInsight, he said.