Aug 3, 2020 - Health

The pandemic hasn't hampered the health care industry

Dollar bill version of George Washington with a stethoscope around his neck.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The economy has been tanking. Coronavirus infections and deaths have been rising. And the health care industry is as rich as ever.

The big picture: Second-quarter results are still pouring in, but so far, a vast majority of health care companies are reporting profits that many people assumed would not have been possible as the pandemic raged on.

What's happening: Even after excluding one-time occurrences — like Sanofi's major windfall from selling its stake in Regeneron or Gilead's massive loss tied to buying a biotech company — the industry is posting profits that are above historic norms.

Pharmaceutical companies: Drug sales fell across many companies, but cutting administrative and research costs kept earnings at industry highs.

  • Nine of the 10 biggest profit margins recorded as of July 31 belonged to drug companies. Par for the course.

Hospitals: HCA Healthcare, Universal Health Services and Community Health Systems all posted profits well above expectations — which surprised Wall Street, considering hospitals halted elective procedures for more than a month.

  • Baptist Health, a not-for-profit hospital system headquartered in Kentucky, "does not foresee a need for additional forms of liquidity" because it has 241 days of cash on hand, the eight-hospital system told bondholders last week.
  • Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, an academic system based in Chicago, told bondholders that its patients' health insurance hasn't changed much, and most procedures are back to normal volumes.
  • Those messages differ from industry lobbyists, who have been asking for more federal bailout funds and have been saying "hospitals are now facing the greatest financial crisis that we have ever faced in our history."

Health insurers: UnitedHealth Group had a record-breaking quarter. Anthem, Cigna and others similarly posted significantly higher earnings than last year.

  • This was entirely expected. Insurance premiums were still rolling in, but people didn't go to their doctors or hospitals as often because of stay-at-home orders.

The losers: Medical device manufacturers like Boston Scientific, Stryker and Edwards Lifesciences all lost money in the second quarter.

  • But those companies' stock prices have risen anyway because surgeries that involve their devices have picked back up.

The bottom line: Just like Big Tech, the pandemic has not significantly stunted the economic and political strength of the health care industry.

Go deeper: Follow our health care earnings tracker

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