U.S. stocks climbed on Monday, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq eyeing new year highs, lifted by the healthcare sector after a Senate bill advanced that omitted some provisions opposed by the industry.

Stocks also got a lift from new merger and acquisition activity and brokerage upgrades of two Dow components, including Alcoa Inc .

Legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system passed a crucial test early Monday as backers cleared a procedural hurdle to approving the bill, which is President Barack Obama's top legislative priority.

Following the vote, the Morgan Stanley Health Payor index <.HMO> climbed 3 percent. Health insurers Aetna Inc added 4.2 percent to $33.89 and Cigna Corp rose 4 percent to $37.24.

The bill wasn't as meaty as it could have been, and it looks like what was finalized may not be as damaging to the sector as we had feared, said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc in Toledo, Ohio.

The fewer the restrictions imposed on insurers, the better the prospects will be for the sector and for the market, Lancz said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 97.04 points, or 0.94 percent, to 10,425.93. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> added 12.43 points, or 1.13 percent, to 1,114.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 26.92 points, or 1.22 percent, to 2,238.61.

If the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hold their gains, the indexes will rack up new 2009 highs. The broad S&P has gained 23.5 percent for the year.

Alcoa Inc gave the top boost to the Dow after it made a joint announcement over the weekend with state-run Saudi Arabian Mining Co, known as Maaden, that they have agreed to build a $10.8 billion aluminum complex.

Morgan Stanley raised its recommendation on Alcoa's stock to buy, expecting the company to report increased profitability in its alumina and downstream divisions. Alcoa jumped 8.5 percent to $15.83 and helped to lift the materials sector <.GSPM> 1.4 percent.

Sentiment also brightened after several acquisition deals, including an agreement by Sanofi-Aventis to buy consumer healthcare company Chattem Inc for about $1.9 billion, driving Chattem's stock up 33 percent to $92.09.

Barclays upgraded Intel Corp , lifting the stock 2.4 percent to $20.09 on Nasdaq.

(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Kenneth Barry)