Apr 22, 2019 - Health

Wall Street is still freaking out over health care stocks

Wall Street continued to batter health care stocks last week, especially the health insurance names, which erased tens of billions of dollars in market value.

What we're hearing: People are citing fears of "Medicare for All" as the driving force behind the sell-off, although it’s not as simple as that. Regardless, many stock analysts are imploring investors to ignore the Democrats' health care plan.

  • "Health care lawmaking is difficult, and change occurs infrequently," wrote Spencer Perlman, director of health care research at Veda Partners. "This is not a bug in the American political system, it is its design. Enacting a wholesale change of the American health care system is highly unlikely, and we urge investors to follow the M4A debate with a wary eye." 
  • "It's a once in a decade opportunity to get high-quality names at these depressed multiples," analysts at SVB Leerink said of health insurers, adding that if a Democratic supermajority could not pull off M4A in 2009, then the chances of it happening this time are "overblown." 
  • Gary Taylor of J.P. Morgan wrote to investors that insurance stocks likely will fall even further as part of a broader market correction, but they could improve a lot if "[Joe] Biden wins the Democratic nomination without changing his current view against single-payer."

The big picture: The stock prices of 5 of the largest health insurers (Anthem, Centene, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth) still have all vastly outperformed the broader stock market since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010.

Late breaking: UnitedHealth filed its annual proxy statement late Friday.

  • CEO Dave Wichmann, who railed against M4A during the company's earnings call last week, made $21.5 million in 2018 compared with $83.2 million in 2017.
  • Stephen Hemsley, the former CEO who sits as UnitedHealth's executive chairman, made $66 million in 2018 compared with $27.2 million in 2017.

Go deeper: Political uncertainty could bring volatility to health care stocks

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