What happened

In April, the overall stock market bounced back from the coronavirus-fueled crash that hammered shares in March, and shares of some of the largest insurers in America soared even further. Last month, Anthem (NYSE:ANTM), Humana (NYSE:HUM), and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) soared 23.6%, 21.6%, and 17.3%, respectively, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence

So what

In March, panic selling yanked the rug out from under these health insurance stocks along with the rest of the market. Unlike many businesses, though, stay-at-home orders that began in March didn't make a visible impact on recently reported first-quarter results.

Person looking at upward sloping arrows.

Image source: Getty Images.

During the first three months of 2020, UnitedHealth reported adjusted earnings in line with the previous year period at $3.72 per share which was $0.05 more than Wall Street had predicted. Revenue that climbed 6.8% to $64.42 billion was $170 million more than Wall Street had expected.

Humana's reported adjusted first-quarter earnings that rose 20.5% to $5.40 which was $0.71 more than consensus estimates. On the top line, revenue that soared 17.6% to $18.94 billion beat the average Wall Street's prediction by $450 million.

Anthem reported adjusted earnings that rose 7.5% year over year to $6.48 per share which just squeaked past consensus estimates by $0.04 per share. On the top line, revenue rose 20.7% year over year to $29.45 billion which was $820 million more than analysts had forecast.

Now what

While the vast majority of companies used their first-quarter earnings calls to rescind performance estimates offered three months ago, all three of these insurers reaffirmed annual guidance provided earlier this year. UnitedHealth Group reported minimal impact from COVID-19 in the first quarter and maintained its full-year outlook for 2020. Adjusted earnings are expected to climb from $15.11 per share in 2019 to a range between $16.25 and $16.55 per share in 2020.

The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't material to Humana's results during the first quarter. Management still expects adjusted earnings to grow from $17.87 per share last year and reach between $18.25 and $18.75 per share this year.

In January, Anthem released a detailed 2020 forecast that included adjusted earnings growth from $18.47 per share in 2019 to more than $22.30 per share in 2020. The company has rescinded the finer details until the effects of COVID-19 become measurable, but the company reaffirmed forward estimates for its bottom line. 

Before filling your portfolio with these health insurance stocks, it's important to remember we're entering some uncharted waters. All three of these insurers were clear about a high level of uncertainty ahead that could dramatically alter their forward outlooks.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.