ST. LOUIS (AP) - Express Scripts released a 2016 earnings outlook that topped Wall Street expectations, sending shares of the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager sharply higher before the opening bell Tuesday.

ST. LOUIS (AP) Express Scripts released a 2016 earnings outlook that topped Wall Street expectations, sending shares of the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager sharply higher before the opening bell Tuesday.

The St. Louis company forecasts adjusted earnings to range between $6.08 and $6.28 per share.

The low end of that range tops the average analyst estimate for next year by three cents, according to FactSet.

The company also expects growth of about 10 percent to 14 percent over the midpoint of its 2015 earnings outlook of $5.51 to $5.55 per share.

Analysts forecast $5.53 per share, on average, for this year.

Companies like Express Scripts run prescription drug coverage for insurers and large employers. They make recommendations on drug coverage, and those customers can then customize the guidelines.

Express Scripts Holding Co. provides coverage for more than 80 million people and has been a frequent critic of soaring drug costs. The company has used its massive customer base as leverage to help reign in the price of certain drugs.

Earlier this month, the company said it would promote a less-expensive alternative to Daraprim, a life-saving medicine for a rare condition that costs $750 per pill after Turing Pharmaceuticals bought rights to the drug and then raised the price more than 50-fold. Express Scripts said that it will make a treatment that costs $1 per pill.

The company heads into 2016 facing a transition. Express Scripts announced in September that CEO George Paz will retire in May and be replaced by Tim Wentworth, company president. Paz will remain company chairman. He has served as Express Scripts chief executive for more than a decade.

Shares of Express Scripts rose almost 4 percent, or $3.34, to $90.49 about an hour before markets opened.

The stock had climbed 3 percent so far this year, as of Monday's close, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has slipped about 2 percent.