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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Health Insurance Co. Stocks at 52-Year High?

Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean doesn’t like the Senate health care bill, as he made clear during a Dec. 20 appearance on NBC’s "Meet the Press." Arguing that the package is a gift to the health insurance industry, Dean said the insurers’ stock prices tell the story:

Dean, Dec. 20: It is not a coincidence, David Gregory, that insurance company stocks, health insurance company stocks, hit a 52-year high on Friday. So they must know something that the rest of us don’t.

Joe Scarborough, co-host of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," repeated the claim during the "Meet the Press" political roundtable:

Scarborough, Dec. 20: And as Howard Dean said, and this is a devastating fact, insurance companies’ stocks reached a 52-year high on Friday after this so-called reform bill got its 60th vote.

But New York Stock Exchange figures show that a number of the leading health insurance providers’ shares were traded at prices near their 52-week high last Friday — not a 52-year high.

UnitedHealth Group stock, for example, was being traded at a high of $32 on Dec. 18. That’s near the company’s 52-week high of $33.25 (as of Dec. 22). But the company’s stock price was actually down by more than $20 from the same time two years ago. On Dec. 18, 2007, UnitedHealth’s stock traded at a high of $57.47 a share.

Other big health insurance companies have experienced similar trends.

Aetna’s stock reached a high trading price of $33 on Dec. 18 — a little less than its 52-week high of $34.91 (as of Dec. 22). However, on Dec. 18, 2007, Aetna’s shares were being traded at a high of $58.07. Similarly, on Dec. 18, Cigna at $36.23 and Humana at $43.89, were being traded at near their 52-week highs of $38.12 and $46.01, respectively (as of Dec. 22). But stock prices for both companies are down significantly from the same time two years ago. On Dec. 18, 2007, shares in Cigna were being traded at $53.80, while a share of Humana was going for $74.05.

We asked Dean spokeswoman Karen Finney about his statement, and she said he "misspoke." Dean meant to refer to the 52-week period, she said.