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HMOs Spike ... This Time for Good?

(Updated for closing prices)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Shares of the U.S. health insurers got off to a quick start on Wednesday when news of the demise of the public option in the congressional healthcare overhaul and comments made by Aetna's (AET - Get Report) CEO buoyed the sector.

However, those quick gains were muted by the end of Wednesday, as still new concerns about revenue spending requirements surfaced.

Thursday was a different story, though, as the gains in the sector from early in the trading day remained at the market close, with some HMOs, like Health Net (HNT - Get Report), achieving 52-week high levels. Health Net closed up 4.5% on Thursday to $23.76, 3 cents below the 52-week high it reached earlier in the trading session.

The biggest gainers overall on Thursday were UnitedHealth Group (UNH - Get Report), which was up 6.4%; Cigna (CI - Get Report), up 6.1%; WellCare Health Plans (WCG - Get Report), up 5.5%; and Aetna, up 5.2%.

Coventry Health Care (CVH) was up 4%; while Humana (HUM - Get Report) was up 2.8%.

WellPoint (WLP), the laggard of the group, was up 1.8% at mid-day.

-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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AET $97.82 -1.93%
CI $128.00 -1.16%
HNT $60.64 -1.30%
HUM $158.02 -1.89%
UNH $110.62 -1.88%


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