Centene Corp.'s fourth quarter earnings plunged 70 percent, as flu expenses hit the Medicaid coverage provider and it continued to struggle with costs from two of its state programs.

The St. Louis company said Tuesday that the flu added about 30 cents per share in medical costs during the quarter, as claims came in higher than what Centene experienced in 2011. Analysts have warned that this flu season was off to a quicker, more intense start than those in recent years.

The insurer also said higher costs in its Kentucky and Texas Medicaid programs affected results. Medicaid is the state and federally funded program that provides health coverage to poor and disabled people. States typically hire private insurers to administer the coverage, and that represents the largest slice of Centene's business.

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