Major health insurers should detail results that stack up well to expectations when they begin reporting on the fourth quarter, but investors will be focused more on how the new year is shaping up, according to analysts who cover the sector.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation's largest insurer, kicks off earnings reports for managed care companies when it releases results Thursday morning.

Big insurers should at least meet, if not beat, expectations in the quarter, Bernstein analyst Ana Gupte said in a research note. The analyst said concerns about a broad increase in health care use in the fourth quarter, due in part to a recovering economy, appear to be overblown.

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