INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s fourth-quarter net income jumped 21 percent, but the insurer saw signs of health care use picking up and left its 2012 earnings forecast unchanged.

The Minnetonka, Minn., company said Thursday utilization started rising in the last half of the year, as commercial health insurance costs increased 5.5 percent in 2011. That was a larger increase than in 2010 but still smaller than the jumps of 7 percent or more that insurers saw before the recession.

UnitedHealth and other health insurers have been helped in recent quarters by health care use that has risen at rates that were slower than expected when they set premiums. Industry analysts and other experts have said use tends to rise at slower levels after a recession, as consumers cut back on spending.

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