Texas Judge’s Ruling on Obamacare Torpedoes Hospital Stocks

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U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor ruled Friday that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) is unconstitutional because the U.S. Congress eliminated the penalty for failure to prove health insurance coverage. O’Connor’s ruling is sure to be appealed eight ways from Sunday, but in the meantime, some health insurers and most hospital stocks are getting taken to the woodshed.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH) dropped 3% on Friday and traded down more than 2% more in early Monday trading. But hospital operators HCA Healthcare Inc. (NYSE: HCA), Universal Health Services Inc. (NYSE: UHS), Tenet Healthcare Corp. (NYSE: THC) and Community Health Systems Inc. (NYSE: CYH) fell much more.

When the ACA became effective in 2014, insurance stocks got a nice bump thanks to an insurer fee that insurance companies paid to help fund the law and expand benefits to the uninsured and the poor. That tax, however, was repaid by the state and federal governments through higher reimbursements to insurers. The insurer tax encouraged insurers to sign up more members and rewarded them for doing so.

Of course, competition drove prices down in the first year, and insurers raised premiums for the following year to reflect more realistically what the ACA actually cost. They’ve been raising rates ever since and, even if they lose subscribers due to O’Connor’s ruling, the impact is likely to be slight.

Not so for hospitals that will once again have to shoulder the costs of uninsured patients by raising their charges to offset the cost of caring for uninsured patients.

Biotech shares suffered no particular ill effects from Friday’s ruling, with the segment off less than 0.1% early Monday.

UnitedHealth traded down 2.4%, at $258.60 in a 52-week range of $208.48 to $287.94. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock is $309.41, and shares have added more than 17% in the past 52-weeks.

HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest hospital operator, traded down 3.8% Monday morning to $122.00, in a 52-week range of $84.72 to $137.42. Its 12-month price target is $151.09 and its market cap is right around $42 billion. Shares have gained nearly 38% in the past 52-weeks.

Universal Health Services traded down 2.4%, at $118.20 in a 52-week range of $95.26 to $132.64. The 52-week price target is $138.53. Shares have added about 3% over the past 52 weeks.

Tenet Healthcare traded down about 5%, at $20.18 in a 52-week range of $14.29 to $39.74. The consensus price target is $29.95. Over the past 12 months, Tenet shares have added more than 42%.

Community Health traded down nearly 8%, at $3.61 in a 52-week range of $2.48 to $6.36. The 12-month price target is $3.40. Shares have dropped nearly 14% in the past 52-weeks.


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