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What Court Ruling Means for Health Stocks

As the Supreme Court hearings get underway Monday, analysts say there’s more at stake than just the fate of  President Obama’s health-care reform:  The fortunes of a slew of health care stocks may also hang in the balance.

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A ruling on whether or not Congress surpassed its constitutional powers by mandating most Americans buy health insurance, could impact a wide range of firms, experts say – although insurers that do a lot of Medicare business should have less to lose than those that focus on workplace plans. “I would expect healthcare insurance companies to react favorably to Obama’s health care law,” says David Abuaf, chief investment officer at Hefty Wealth Partners in Auburn, Ind. But companies that create healthcare products may also have a lot on the line, he says.

Insurance companies are the most likely to be directly affected, experts say. They will need to spend less on sales and marketing costs than at present, and have a new pool of readymade customers, says Kevin Flynn, president of Healthcare Advocates. Helped by an already strong stock market, insurers already surged over the last two years: Aetna (AET) rose 32% since March 23, 2010, UnitedHealth (UNH) 69%, Humana (HUM) is up 85%, though WellPoint (WLP) edged up just 5.6%. And based on those performances, some analysts are betting that “Obamacare” will sail through the current Supreme Court hearings without any major changes. “We believe the Supreme Court will likely uphold the Affordable Care Act,” says Sarah James, healthcare equity analyst at Wedbush Securities.

Laboratory testing firms could also rise or fall based on the Supreme Court outcome, Abuaf says. “If you’re effectively forcing people to go to the doctor, they will end up getting more prescriptions,” Abuaf says. Of course, just like insurance firms, many of these companies’ stock prices have already risen along with the buoyant stock market since Obama signed the measure bill into law on March 23, 2010. Clinical laboratory services company LabCorp. of America Holdings (LH) rose 18% over that period, though others, like Quest Diagnostics (DGX), rose just 3%. Abuaf expects them to see an increase in demand as more people, once compelled to take out insurance, will be encouraged to see their doctors and take advantage of their coverage.

To be sure, even if Obama’s health-care reform goes through relatively unchanged, significant risks remain in healthcare stocks, experts say. With an estimated 25 million more Americans expected to take out coverage, insurers could be inundated with an onslaught of previously undiagnosed diseases which will increase claims, Flynn says. “The inclusion of pre-existing conditions in insurance policies could also boost claims,” he says. And medical device companies will also have to pay a 2.3% excise tax on sales, which is expected to cost $20 billion a year, says Raj Denhoy, healthcare equity analyst at Jefferies & Co. These companies include Medtronic (MDT), Stryker (SYK), Zimmer (ZMH) and Boston Scientific (BSX); Denhoy says they underperformed the S&P 500 for the last two years.

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    • I cannot believe that the government can make you buy health insurance! That is absurd. Why can’t I pay cash for my healthcare, does cash not work anymore? Are they gonna tell me what I can and can’t have for dinner next, what car to drive, what internet provider and cell phone company I should use? When does it end. If you want government controlled healthcare then put the entire country on medicare and tax the corporations for it.

    • First of all I would like to say superb blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Thank you!

    • “And medical device companies will also have to pay a 2.3% excise tax on sales,…”

      Corporations don’t pay taxes. They only collect taxes as unpaid agents for the IRS and as beards for politicians who can then proceed to castigate those same companies as “greedy.” Why can’t reporters be truthful about this?

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