Managed care provider Molina Healthcare Inc. is growing so fast, it’s a wonder the firm doesn’t have stretch marks.

The Long Beach company, which serves people receiving government assistance, reported a 38 percent jump in membership in the quarter ended March 31, coupled with a 15 percent hike in premium revenue generated by each member every month.

Those factors pushed Molina’s first-quarter net income to $28.2 million or 56 cents a share, much better than analysts’ expectations of 47 cents a share and per-share earnings of 10 cents in the same quarter last year. Revenue was up 53 percent to $3.2 billion.

The news pushed Molina’s stock up 17 percent last week to close May 13 at $68.17, making it one of the top gainers on the LABJ Stock Index. (See Page 70.)

“This success underscores the current growth opportunities of our business,” said Chief Executive J. Mario Molina in an earnings call. “We are currently operating in one of the most exciting periods in the history of Medicaid managed care.”

Brian Wright, an analyst in the New York office of Sterne Agee, said the first quarter was one of the best Molina Healthcare had seen in a long time.

“The company is showing the ability to manage this new population effectively and seeing results at the bottom line,” Wright said. “They’re just starting to get earnings more commensurate with peers.”

Molina got that big jump in membership partly because of the federal government’s Medicaid expansion. The firm also enrolled 185,000 Obamacare exchange members in Florida in the quarter, more than doubling its total membership there. Molina also added 62,000 Sunshine State members in a December deal where it acquired another provider’s large Medicaid contract.

The company also got more members with complex medical conditions for which Molina receives higher monthly premiums, which helps account for the big increase in premium revenue.

The company beat expectations partly because it had been conservative in estimating its future performance, according to Wright.

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