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Here's Why HCA Healthcare Slipped Today

By Cory Renauer - Apr 16, 2019 at 5:46PM

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Fear of political headwinds that have been hammering health insurers has spread to the hospital operators that depend on them.

What happened

Shares of HCA Healthcare (HCA -1.53%), one of America's largest for-profit hospital operators, are under pressure thanks to a proliferation of presidential candidates supporting Medicare-for-all legislation that might pass after the 2020 election. Investors worried about HCA Healthcare's distant future pushed the stock down 10.4% on Tuesday.

So what 

The sums HCA Healthcare receives from Medicare and Medicare Advantage are significantly lower than established gross charges for the services it provides. The hospital operator also offers discounts to managed care organizations, such as UnitedHealth Group (UNH 0.79%), but the government nearly always wrangles a deeper discount than private insurance companies.

Guy in a suit drawing a downward sloping chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

HCA Healthcare doesn't report until Tuesday, April 30, but warnings from UnitedHealth Group about the catastrophe Medicare-for-all could lead to spooked a stock market already nervous about attempts to tear apart the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Now what

This is a good time to remember that nothing changes quickly in healthcare. The ACA became law in 2010, but HCA Healthcare and its peers are still adjusting to the shift from pay-per-service arrangements to payments based on patient outcomes. 

Existential fears of a healthcare policy shift in Washington that could suddenly squeeze everyone into Medicare seem overblown. If Congress continues to act like Congress and accomplishes very little, HCA Healthcare investors buying at recent prices could see some impressive gains. The stock has been trading at just 11.4 times trailing earnings, and it even began offering a dividend last year that currently has a 1.4% yield.

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Stocks Mentioned

HCA Healthcare, Inc. Stock Quote
HCA Healthcare, Inc.
HCA
$211.64 (-1.53%) $-3.28
UnitedHealth Group Incorporated Stock Quote
UnitedHealth Group Incorporated
UNH
$489.22 (0.79%) $3.82

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