Sector Snap: Health insurers surge after key vote

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 1:12 PM

Shares of health insurance providers leaped Monday after a key Senate vote on the country's health care overhaul put legislation on track for passage before Christmas.

Shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday, 60 senators voted to shut down a threatened Republican filibuster on a health care reform bill. The Senate bill would make health insurance mandatory for nearly everyone, covering 30 million currently uninsured Americans. A final vote in the Senate is expected by Christmas Eve.

The House passed health-care legislation in November. The two bills must still be merged into one before President Barack Obama can sign it into law.

The Senate bill does not contain a provision for a government-run insurance plan, which managed-care companies have contested. The House bill, however, does include that option.

Investors have been worried for months that a public option would provide unfair competition to private insurers in part because it would receive government financial backing and could set reimbursement at artificially low levels.

On Monday, a Credit Suisse analyst boosted his price targets on seven insurance providers.

"The ultimate passage of health care reform, expected early next year, will serve as a positive catalyst for the managed care universe," said Gregory Nersessian in a note to investors.

He raised his price targets on Aetna Inc., Amerigroup Corp., Cigna Corp., Humana Inc., Molina Healthcare Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Wellcare Health Plans Inc. He also boosted his profit estimates for Health Net Inc.

Shares of Aetna rose $1.81, or 5.6 percent, to $34.32; Cigna gained $2.15, or 6 percent, to $37.95; Humana added $1.71, or 3.9 percent, to $45.24; UnitedHealth traded up $1.35, or 4.3 percent, to $32.89; Wellpoint Inc. jumped $2.19, or 3.8 percent, to $60.51. All hit 52-week highs, except for Humana, which was a little more than a dime short of its 12-month high.

Wellcare also rose $1.47, or 4 percent, to $38.41; Health Net rose 73 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $24.28; Molina rose 61 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $23.02; and Amerigroup rose 49 cents to $26.28. Wellcare and Health Net hit 52-week highs as well.