The hospital sector attempted to upgrade its condition on Tuesday.

A day after a major profit warning that left several hospital operators bleeding, a couple of industry players tried to play up their strengths. Health Management Associates ( HMA) claimed it remains as healthy as ever and reiterated its first-quarter guidance for both earnings and admission growth. Meanwhile, Tenet ( THC) touted new discounts for the uninsured that could help ease its bad-debt headaches down the road.

Both companies issued their news after Universal Health Services ( UHS) triggered a big selloff Monday by warning that its first-quarter profit -- hit by sluggish business and rising costs -- could fall 25% shy of Wall Street estimates.

Prudential analyst David Shove believes UHS' ailments could prove contagious. Shove warned last week of a "potential storm" that seems to be hitting the industry.

"Universal Health Services' earnings shortfall indicates that the storm is here, in our opinion," wrote Shove, who cut UHS from overweight to neutral weight and maintains an unfavorable outlook on the sector overall. "In the coming quarters, we expect the peer hospital companies to report similar trend effects to their earnings power. As a consequence, hospital industry earnings visibility has diminished significantly."

But HMA quickly boasted about immunity to such pitfalls. The rural hospital operator said on Tuesday that it still expects to deliver first-quarter profits of 37 cents a share and same-store admissions growth of 2% to 5%. It also indicated that it has not been affected by the same ailments -- such as competition and unfavorable patient mix -- now hurting UHS.

"By supplementing existing hospital medical staffs with needed, recruited physicians and investing capital in new technology, HMA improves the quality of health care and reverses patient migration out of the market," HMA CEO Joseph Vumbacco said Tuesday. "Importantly, HMA hospitals have not experienced a significant change in the payor mix of patients seeking treatment at our hospitals, further confirming the strength of the communities we serve."

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