A fair amount of uncertainty continues to surround the healthcare sector as Congress debates how it can improve the existing system in the U.S., but that has not prevented a number of stocks in the space from storming up the charts. Here are four healthcare stocks on fire right now.

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Portfolio Cure-Alls
Year to date, shares of the pharmaceutical giant Novartis (NYSE: NVS) are only up 7%, but the stock has surged 59.7% since hitting a 52-week low in early March. The Switzerland-based company recently reported a solid third quarter in which operating income rose 12.8% on a 3.2% increase in net sales. The company maintains that it is on pace for record sales and earnings in 2009.

Novartis continues to benefit from its core pharmaceutical business segment, which has chalked up a score of new approvals in 2009 including its anti-cancer therapy, Afinitor. Looking forward, the company should have another strong quarter in Q4 with contributions from its H1N1 flu vaccine, which began being shipped at the end of September. Dividend investors may also find this stock attractive with its 3.2% dividend yield.

The small cap biotech Exelixis (Nasdaq: EXEL) has been on quite a run of its own. The stock has climbed more than 50% so far this year and has been gaining momentum from improving revenue streams from its collaborative agreements with Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY). Exelixis focuses on developing cancer therapies.

Slicing Up The Competition
Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG) has been a leader of innovation in the medical device industry since its da Vinci Surgical System was introduced in 1999. Today the company continues to find new growth in the field of robotic-assisted surgery and has seen its stock price move up 120% so far in 2009.

Intuitive Surgical is coming off of a Q3 in which EPS improved 14.2% on an 18.7% gain in revenue when compared to the company's year-ago quarter. ISRG saw revenue growth in each of its three business segments and was helped in particular by sales of its new da Vinci Si model surgical system. Intuitive Surgical's service revenue also moved higher as the company continues to grow its client base.

After resolving investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Florida Attorney General's Office earlier this year, shareholders of managed-care provider WellCare Health Plans (NYSE: WCG) have seen their investment take off. Year to date, the stock has gained 165%. Going into 2010, the company will have to overcome declining membership in its Medicare segment with gains from its Medicaid business and premiums.

Bottom Line
Healthcare stocks have not been precluded from participating in the recent rallies of the broader equity markets. These four stocks in particular have brushed aside any potential adversity that could arise from future legislation for the sector. Although each of these stocks is worthy of consideration, investors looking to add healthcare exposure to their portfolios should conduct their own due diligence before pulling the trigger. (Learn more about how to check up on the health of healthcare stocks in Investing In The Healthcare Sector.)

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