"It ain't over till it's over."

Yogi Berra's insightful comment applies to sports, quite a few left-for-dead companies, and apparently health-care reform.

Suddenly things have become very interesting after Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat yesterday. The process of making health-care reform bill into law isn't complete, and Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The future ain't what it used to be
The big fight was destined to be between liberal Democrats in the House and moderate Democrats in the Senate as they worked to rectify the two versions of the bills. Instead Democrats will have to team up to work with or around Republicans.

One possibility is to avoid going back to the Senate by having the House of Representatives just approve the Senate version of the bill without merging the two bills. That would clearly benefit health insurers like UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) and WellPoint (NYSE:WLP) since the Senate's version doesn't include a federal government-sponsored public option that would compete with private insurers.

Another possibility is for the Senate to approve a merged bill under a procedure called "reconciliation", which only requires 51 votes to pass tax measures instead of the 60 required to end debate under the usual Senate procedure. Winners under this possibility include labor unions that represent workers for companies like Ford (NYSE:F) and Goodyear Tire & Rubber (NYSE:GT). The Senate version contains a large tax on "Cadillac plans" that some union workers get. Any merged bill is likely to tone down the tax to keep liberal Democrats in the House happy.

While working around the Republicans seems possible, nothing is ever that simple in Washington. Democrats have to think about their political futures, and if you assume that Brown's come-from-behind win was mostly a statement against health-care reform, then Democrats may be reluctant to push health-care through unchecked by Republicans.

We may get an idea of the direction this is headed when the President gives his State of the Union address next week.

It's like deja vu, all over again
Where does this leave investors? Pretty much where we've been since the health-care reform debate started so many months ago. Shares of health-care stocks traded higher yesterday in anticipation of a potential win by Brown and they're likely to continue to trade higher and lower depending on which politician is spouting off at the pulpit.

While we could see some boost if investors truly believe that health-care reform is dead, don't expect the same kind of substantial surge that we saw in the latter half of 1994 when Hillary Clinton's health-care reform died.


Low price in 1994

Ending price in 1994

Increase in price

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)




Merck (NYSE:MRK)




Medtronic (NYSE:MDT)




S&P 500




Source Yahoo! Finance. *Split adjusted.

Health-care stocks, especially drug and medical device companies, haven't been hurt nearly as much this time around because Congress has been more sympathetic to their needs. (That's just a polite way of saying the industry was more prepared and had a better army of lobbyists.)

Even with all the complaining they did, health insurers won't be crippled by any health-care reform that might be passed. The only thing that could have been truly disastrous for them -- single-payer coverage -- was never on the table.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it
Yogi Berra's puzzling driving directions aren't such a bad roadmap for investors. Changes in the economic and political scenery will lead to decisions that need to be made about your portfolio. For some, like whether to invest in health-care stocks right now, I'm not sure it matters which fork you take -- both will get you somewhere.

Is this the end of health-care reform or will Democrats find a way to push it through? Does it matter that much for your pocketbook or portfolio? Let us know in the comment box below.

UnitedHealth and WellPoint are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Ford and UnitedHealth are Stock Advisor choices. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of UnitedHealth and Medtronic and has written puts on Medtronic. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., thinks ninety percent of investing is half-mental. He doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy really didn't say everything it said but the things it did say can be found here.