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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights:Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint and Gilead Sciences



The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights:Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint
                             and Gilead Sciences

PR Newswire

CHICAGO, March 13, 2013

CHICAGO, March 13, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks
featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts
discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets.
Stocks recently featured in the blog include Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET), Humana
Inc. (NYSE:HUM), UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH), WellPoint Inc. (NYSE:WLP)
and Gilead Sciences, Inc. (Nasdaq:GILD).

(Logo:  http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20101027/ZIRLOGO)

Get the most recent insight from Zacks Equity Research with the free Profit
from the Pros newsletter: http://at.zacks.com/?id=5513

Here are highlights from Tuesday's Analyst Blog:

Can Obamacare Silence Its Critics?

Right from its inception, the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare,
has faced strident criticism. The new act has resulted in a range of
reimbursement reductions, tax hikes and a plethora of new regulations.

Tax hikes is one area which has been difficult to ignore. Several patients
have to deal with new payroll, capital gains and excise taxes. Meanwhile,
hospitals and medical practitioners are already feeling the effects of a 2.3%
tax on the gross income of medical device companies. These additional costs
would possibly be passed onto customers.

Now more fuel is being added to the fire, via the sequestration. Of course,
several conservatives have indicated that $85 billion worth of budgetary cuts
are a mere 2% of the entire federal budget. But when seen from the perspective
of its impact on healthcare, doctors and patients alike are sure to face
severe discomfort.

The other significant reason expected to make health insurance unviable is
what is being described as premium rate shock. This is expected to take effect
in 2014 as the new Act is implemented nationwide. As more and more of the
uninsured are given healthcare coverage, there will be steep hikes in
insurance premiums. This prediction was made by an important figure in the
insurance industry, Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET).

Speaking at an investor conference, Bertolini said he expected premiums to
increase by 20% to 50% in 2014, before government subsidies take effect. In
fact, he expected rates to increase by 100% in some markets. Blue Shield of
California also has similar views. According to a report in

The Los Angeles Times

, it is looking to raise rates from 12% to 20% for 300,000 or more
individuals. The company has declared that these rates would take effect by
March.

There are complaints on the insurers' side as well. Insurance companies have
been drawing attention to the proposed reductions to Medicare Advantage plans.
The Obama administration has said it may reduce payments to Medicare Advantage
plans next year. A 7% to 8% reduction in payouts could mean a significant jump
in premiums. This, is turn, could lead to a reduction in services to senior
citizens or lowered access to plans.

However, evidence on the ground tells us a different story. Applications from
insurers wanting to get into the Medicare Advantages domain have risen by more
than 50%. Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that
48 companies' applications have been filed this year, compared to 31 in 2012.
Of course, these applications are from parent companies which offer more than
one health plan.

Apart from Aetna, Humana Inc. (NYSE:HUM), UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH)
and WellPoint Inc. (NYSE:WLP) all offer Medicare Advantage plans. Others like
Health Care Services Corp, which offer Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in
Illinois, Texas and New Mexico, are also looking to offer more Medicare
Advantage plans or widen their reach. The fact that they are new to this
business doesn't seem to be acting as a deterrent. In fact, the company has
applied for more plans under Medicare Advantage in Oklahoma and is expanding
service coverage in New Mexico.  

Even so, governmental reductions are being viewed as detrimental to the
adoption of Medicare advantage. Health insurance lobby America's Health
Insurance Plans recently claimed in a report that the cuts could result in an
increase in payments of $50 or more for a citizen opting for Medicare
Advantage.

The success of Medicare Advantage depends on a higher rate of adoption.
Optimism has grown with the program's recent monthly contract reports
predicting that enrollment may increase to 14 million this year from 12.8
million senior citizens in 2012. And this is true for the Obamacare reforms as
a whole.

The success of the program depends on a steep increase in adoption and
participation. Since insurance firms have been prevented from refusing
coverage, lower adoption will mean that the plan covers only those who need it
desperately. As rates take a spike, the young and healthy would begin to opt
out after paying a $695 a year penalty by 2016. This is a bitter political
pill for anyone to swallow.

But there is growing optimism and action among citizens and governments alike.
Over the past few weeks, six Republican governors have agreed to expand
Medicaid coverage to their states. And voluntary organizations such as Enroll
America have begun to play a major role in increasing awareness about the
reforms.

In fact, Covered California, that state's health exchange, will actually guide
new applicants through the complicated process of filling up applications.
Surely, Obamacare's wide adoption holds out hope for insurer and beneficiary
alike.

Encouraging Data from Gilead

Gilead Sciences, Inc. (Nasdaq:GILD) recently presented encouraging data on its
chronic angina drug Ranexa (ranolazine) from a phase IV study (TERISA: n=927).
The TERISA (Type 2 Diabetes Evaluation of Ranolazine in Subjects with Chronic
Stable Angina) evaluated the efficacy of drug (as a combination therapy) in
chronic stable angina patients with concurrent type II diabetes. Angina refers
to a type of chest pain that occurs due to lack of oxygen supply to the heart.
Gilead presented the data at the 62nd annual scientific session of the
American College of Cardiology.

The patients evaluated in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled,
parallel study remained symptomatic for angina even after being treated with a
stable dose of one or two concomitant antianginal agents.

Results from the study revealed that type II diabetes patients treated with
Ranexa experienced a significant reduction in weekly episodes of chronic
angina compared to those in the placebo. Gilead stated in its press release
that angina results from exertion or emotional stress.  GILD further stated
that diabetes patients have more extensive coronary artery disease and a
propensity for greater angina burden as opposed to non- diabetes patients.

Gilead is evaluating Ranexa in multiple studies apart from TERISA in patients
with chronic angina and/or type II diabetes. Ranexa has performed well in
phase II studies in patients with chronic angina and/or type II diabetes.
Top-line results from 3 phase III studies for the new indication are expected
by the end of the year. We note that 2012 sales of Ranexa, which is marketed
for the chronic angina indication, climbed 17% to $372.9 million. If Ranexa is
approved for treating patients with chronic angina and/or type II diabetes
then the sales potential of the drug would be boosted.

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