(Updated for closing prices)



) -- 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



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


, 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%;


(CI) - Get Report

TST Recommends

, 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


(HUM) - Get Report

was up 2.8%.



, the laggard of the group, was up 1.8% at mid-day.

-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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