Healthcare Business

5 Affordable Care Act Stock Winners to Buy Now

While many consumers are still struggling mightily with the details of the Affordable Care Act, many of the health services companies involved in the massive plan are finally starting to get some of the implementation woes of the program behind them. For many of the top stocks to buy in the sector, the next year or two may be smooth sailing compared to the last.

A new research report from the analysts at Stifel notes that the managed care organizations (MCOs) have posted solid results and raised earnings estimates, and they have been sold off. They think that near-term profit taking that is being driven by broad market rotation and enthusiastic hospital results. Most importantly for investors, they think results for 2015 and 2016 will accelerate, as spending for ACA readiness declines, new underwriting expands and Medicare Advantage cuts subside.

Here are the five top stocks to buy that are winning the ACA battle.

Aetna Inc. (NYSE: AET) makes the list, and it trades at just touch over 14 times earnings. The company is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving an estimated 44 million people while offering a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities.

Investors are paid a 1.21% dividend. The Stifel price target for the stock is $90, and the Thomson/First Call estimate is at $89.68. Aetna closed Monday at $79.60 a share.

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Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) has a unique earnings profile and is the closest thing in the space to a Medicare Advantage pure play with around 60% of operating earnings levered to this segment and a strong market position. Future growth should come from a combination of baby boomers (turning 65 at the rate of 8,000 per day for the next 18 years) and continued market share gains and potential shifts from employers to Medicare. The company is another that will be closely watched for revenues and profitability from the public exchanges.

Investors are paid a 0.9% dividend. The Stifel price target for the stock is $155, and the consensus target is pegged at $128.47. Humana closed Monday at $120.36 a share.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH) offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and it contracts directly with more than 800,000 physicians and care professionals, and 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities. The company posted solid second-quarter numbers and delivered improved execution on operating expenses, which if maintained should create a higher earnings-per-share run-rate through 2015.

UnitedHealth investors are paid a 1.8% dividend. The Stifel price target is set at $95, and the consensus figure is at $91.48. The stock closed Monday at $82.27.

WellCare Health Plans Inc. (NYSE: WCG) provides managed care services targeted to government-sponsored health care programs, focusing on Medicaid and Medicare. WellCare offers a variety of health plans for families, children, and the aged, blind and disabled, as well as prescription drug plans. The company serves approximately 3.9 million members nationwide as of June 30, 2014.

Stifel has set a price target for the stock at $75, and the consensus target is $70.43, WellCare Health shares ended trading Monday at $62.64.

WellPoint Inc. (NYSE: WLP) trades at an incredibly low 10.3 times earnings, and although the company posted a quarterly drop in profits, it raised estimates for the balance of the year. The company started diversifying more heavily into consumer-oriented and health information technology businesses three years ago and is continuing with the strategy.

Investors receive a 1.6% dividend. The Stifel price target is posted at $120, and the consensus price target for WellPoint is posted at $119.53. The stock closed Monday at $111.60 a share.

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Two huge advantages for investors looking to add the stocks to their portfolio are in play now. All of these top MCOs have been sold off after earnings, and most importantly, they reside in a sector where the population is aging and needs more care. Business is good, and going to get better.