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Managed care stocks rise despite court ruling against ACA individual mandate

Shares of many major health insurance companies were up strongly this week even as a federal appeals court declared the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate unconstitutional.

For the week ending Dec. 20, the S&P 500 rose 1.65% to a record-high 3,221.22, while the SNL U.S. Insurance Index climbed 1.43% to 1,172.83.

An appellate court in New Orleans ruled that the mandate became unconstitutional when Congress in 2017 eliminated the penalty associated with failing to have health insurance. The decision returns the case to a lower district court in Texas to determine whether other provisions in the law can survive without the individual mandate. The ruling does not have immediate effect and the case is widely expected to eventually end up at the Supreme Court.

Centene Corp. jumped 7.31%, Anthem Inc. gained 6.65%, WellCare Health Plans Inc. was up 4.67%., Humana Inc. increased 4.43% and Molina Healthcare Inc. ticked up 3.09%.

Cigna Corp. this week announced that it agreed to sell its disability insurance business to New York Life Insurance Co. for $6.3 billion. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of 2020.

Cigna's shares rose 7.75%.

In the property and casualty sector, Allstate Corp. disclosed catastrophe losses for November of $33 million pretax, or $26 million after tax. Perhaps more significantly, the insurer also this week said it will retire its Esurance brand in 2020 as part of a new growth plan.

CFRA Research analyst Cathy Seifert in a note argued that Allstate's new plan is a positive move because it could broaden and modernize the company's distribution strategy and arm it against digital disruption while saving costs. Although auto claim frequency and severity have eroded industrywide, Allstate's ongoing transformation is an attractive catalyst for the company's stock, she said.

Allstate shares ended with a gain of 1.71%.

Health Insurance Innovations Inc. shares went on a rollercoaster ride. After rallying for most of the week, the stock lost more than 12% on Dec. 20 as the company released an update on its business strategy amid an ongoing strategic review.

The company said it would turn the focus for its individual and family plan business on maximizing cash flows and enhancing its e-commerce capabilities. President and CEO Gavin Southwell in a statement said the company would prioritize the "rapid build out" of the Medicare business, which he claimed stands to provide the "best path forward" to maximize shareholder value.

The Health Insurance Innovations leader acknowledged that the pivot could lead to certain IFP carrier and distributor relationships and books of business being put into runoff.

For the week, Health Insurance Innovations was higher by 5.50%.