LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  Humana Inc. CEO Bruce Broussard touted the benefits of the company’s “very successful” partnership with Walmart on Wednesday during Humana’s first quarterly earnings call since The Wall Street Journal reported March 29 that Walmart was in early talks to buy the Louisville-based health insurer.

Asked about the benefits of a “more expanded retail partnership,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard cited the company’s seven-year relationship selling a co-branded Medicare drug plan with Walmart.

“We see that being in the stores is helpful and convenient for the customer, and in addition it just drives further traffic to the clinical models and in addition to the distribution models,” Broussard said.

Broussard added Humana’s presence in Walmart stores is “just another access point for people in the store to learn more about the benefits” of Medicare Advantage plans, Humana’s main business.

Wall Street stock analysts did not ask Broussard to directly address reports that Walmart and Humana are mulling a merger or expanded partnership.

Earlier in the call, Broussard was asked about Humana’s interest in offering primary care to its insurance members through clinics at retailers, in reference to CVS Health’s pending deal to buy Aetna, a rival to Humana.

“We will continue to look at that,” Broussard said. “We do see convenience as being an important of the decision individuals make when they choose a primary care clinic.”

Broussard’s comments came as Humana reported first-quarter earnings that were down from the same time last year but that beat Wall Street expectations on a per-share basis.

Humana also said it expects to generate 2 percent to 3 percent more in profits in 2018 than it previously forecast on Feb. 7.

Excluding special items -- like the $1 billion, one-time breakup fee Humana received last year following the failure of its merger with Aetna -- Humana reported pretax income of $684 million for the three months ended March 31, down from $751 million during the same period in 2017.

Earnings rose 22 percent on a per-share basis, however, because Humana spent $1.2 billion last year buying back its own stock, reducing the number of shares outstanding.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.