Health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc said on Wednesday its quarterly profit fell nearly 38%, weighed by costs related to its programs to make COVID-19 testing and treatment more accessible for its customers.

For the most part of last year, health insurers gained as patients avoided hospital visits for routine and elective medical procedures during the height of the pandemic, but the benefits were partly offset by COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccine costs.

Their profits in the fourth quarter was also impacted by a recovery in demand for healthcare services.

For the quarter, UnitedHealth reported a medical loss ratio - the percentage of premiums paid out for medical services - of 79.1%, improving from 82.5% last year.

Net earnings attributable to shareholders fell to $2.21 billion, or $2.30 per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, from $3.54 billion, or $3.68 per share, a year earlier.