March 18 Shares of U.S. hospital operators
climbed on Tuesday after the Obama administration said 5 million
Americans have signed up for health insurance through the new
online marketplaces since open enrollment began on Oct. 1.
The figure represents an increase of 800,000 people since
March 1, suggesting a late surge in public interest with less
than two weeks left until the March 31 enrollment deadline,
Shares of the largest U.S. hospital operator, HCA Holdings
Inc, jumped 2.3 percent to $49.36 in late afternoon
trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock of Community
Health Systems Inc, the second-largest U.S. hospital
operator, shot up 3.2 percent to $36.83, with shares of No. 3
Tenet Healthcare Corp up 2 percent at $40.83.
"The pace of enrollment in the final month appears to be
accelerating, with call center volumes being the busiest they
have been since December and over 5 million visits to
HealthCare.gov throughout last week and weekend," Credit Suisse
analyst Ralph Giacobbe wrote in a note to clients.
Hospitals are expected to benefit from the increase in the
number of Americans with health insurance through the private
marketplaces and an expansion of the Medicaid program for the
poor under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law. But
uncertainty about whether enrollment would reach projections has
created some volatility in hospital shares.
The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that total
enrollment in exchange plans could approach 6 million by the
sign-up deadline. The CBO scaled back its forecast from 7
million after technical problems marred the website's launch.
Monday's update did not say how many new enrollees were
younger adults ages 18 to 34, a demographic considered crucial
to the success of the insurance marketplaces because those
consumers are expected to compensate for older, sicker
policyholders who are more expensive to insure. Too few healthy
beneficiaries could cause healthcare costs to rise.
The Obama administration said last week the level of young
adult participation remained at 25 percent of total enrollment
for the second month in a row.