Shares of Humana and Cigna rose in early morning trading as an industry analyst said that Humana’s steps last week to pay its executives millions of dollars in a “change of control” event made it a possible takeover target of its rival Cigna.

Humana shares were up $3.15, or 1.3 percent at 10:30 a.m., while Cigna’s shares had gained $1.10, or 0.55 percent. The S&P 500 had changed little. Shares of insurers Aetna and Anthem had fallen slightly.

The Louisville-based Humana last week updated a policy that would pay some of its executives millions of dollars if the company changed ownership in a merger or takeover. The policy takes effect on Jan. 1.

Ana Gupte | Courtesy of Leerink Partners

As Insider reported today, the move added fuel to merger speculation. While the company said the filing was routine, Ana Gupte, a health care industry analyst with Leerink Partners, said the filing suggests that Humana was a possible takeover target, with Cigna being the most likely acquirer, according to StreetInsider.com.

Gupte said that other possible acquirers of Humana include Anthem, Walmart and Walgreens.

Cigna employs more than 40,000, generates annual revenue of about $40 billion and is based in Hartford, Conn., the former home of Aetna, which recently tried to merge with Humana. That deal was scuttled after a judge blocked the union over antitrust concerns.

Cigna also tried to merge with Anthem this year, but that deal, too, was blocked by a judge over antitrust concerns.

Health care experts had told Insider that regardless of the failures of those deals, pressures toward consolidation in the health care industry would remain: Insurance company executives believe that their companies need to get bigger to have greater bargaining power to negotiate good deals with health care providers, such as hospital systems, which also have gotten bigger to counter the heft of the insurers.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.