Apr 3, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus causes dire prospects for health care industry's Q1

Illustration of a giant health plus on top of a pile of cash, the ground underneath is cracking.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The health care industry has been on a long run of financial prosperity, but early data points show the coronavirus is abruptly ending that run.

The big picture: Health care is usually pretty recession-proof because people still need to see doctors and fill prescriptions when the economy tanks. 

  • But almost no business is immune to a pandemic that is severely curtailing almost all forms of consumption, including most health care services.

Driving the news: Walgreens and Tenet Healthcare yesterday previewed how bad things have been so far.

  • Sales at Walgreens stores shot up 26% in the first 21 days of March compared with the same time in 2019, as people stockpiled prescriptions, toiletries and any other product they could find. But sales then plummeted "at a mid-teens rate of decline" as people hunkered down at home. April will be worse.
  • Hospital and surgery center chain Tenet Healthcare withdrew its 2020 financial expectations and furloughed 500 people, as surgery volumes dried up. Tenet, through the new bailout package, also will be asking the federal government to advance the pay on $1.5 billion of Medicare revenue — which will have to be repaid later.

Go deeper: Health care profits dip, but stocks soar

Go deeper