May 2 (Reuters) - Health insurer Cigna Group raised its annual profit forecast on Thursday, as lower-than-expected medical costs and strength in its pharmacy benefit management unit helped it beat first-quarter earnings estimates.

The company now expects an adjusted profit of at least $28.40 per share in 2024, up 15 cents from its previous forecast.

Cigna's forecast lift comes in contrast to CVS Health , which slashed its annual profit forecast on Wednesday, citing higher medical costs, especially for its Medicare Advantage (MA) plans for adults aged 65 and above.

Robust demand for medical procedures delayed during the COVID pandemic, especially from older adults, has resulted in increased costs for insurers such as CVS, UnitedHealth and Humana.

UnitedHealth and Humana are among the larger players in the MA market, compared to Cigna, which has a much smaller presence and is in the process of divesting its Medicare business.

The sale of Cigna's MA unit to Health Care Service Corp remains on track and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2025, the company said.

Cigna's medical care ratio, the percentage of premiums spent on medical care, came in at 79.9% for the first quarter, below LSEG estimates of 81.87%.

Higher pricing for some of its commercial insurance plans helped it keep costs in check, Cigna said.

Adjusted sales in its pharmacy benefit management (PBM) unit, Evernorth, jumped nearly 28% to $46.23 billion in the reported quarter.

The Bloomfield, Connecticut-based company's quarterly profit rose 19.6% to $6.47 per share, topping analysts' average estimate of $6.22, according to LSEG data. (Reporting by Bhanvi Satija in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)