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Aetna(AET - Get Report) is a managed health care firm that provides benefits to more than 22 million Medicare, Medicaid, and private health care patients across the country. That 22 million number is important -- size matters in the health care industry. Because Aetna has such a big patient rolls, it's able to negotiate harder with care providers to bring down the rates that it ultimately pays out.
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The firm has taken some of the risks off of its own balance sheet by pushing its services as a health care plan administrator. On the commercial side, it means that Aetna provides its network and resources to employees at a firm, but it's the employer who bears the risks of underwriting a health policy. That, coupled with Medicare and Medicaid give Aetna a lucrative market that's less burdened by regulation and less filled with the risks of poor underwriting.
While health care reform legislation has been a big concern for all insurers in recent years, Aetna has actually used new bills to its advantage as a bargaining chip, squeezing out concessions from its contracted healthcare providers. That's a fact that's showing through in AET's margins in 2012.
With plenty free cash generation on tap, AET looks likely to make a boost to its 17.5-cent quarterly dividend payout in the near-term. Aetna yields 1.6% right now.