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Employer Insurance Delay Is Blow to Obamacare: Barbara Ryan

Barbara Ryan, FTI Consulting, Managing Director
Wednesday, 3 Jul 2013 | 3:49 PM ET
Mike Kemp | Rubberball | Getty Images

Like a virus, word quickly spread that the Obamacare employer mandate would be delayed by one year. This development signaled that the heavy-handed government overhaul of the nation's health-care system is still not a done deal.

Almost immediately after the news broke, Brad Dayspring, a Republican strategist, tweeted he was "absolutely thrilled," and Republican lawmakers lost no time in calling for President Barack Obama's signature domestic initiative to be repealed.

The news is yet another blow to the planned overhaul of the U.S. health-care system, which some Republicans have dubbed an impending train wreck. With this latest misstep in their quiver, they promise to make repealing it a major issue in the mid-term elections next year.

So, what's the prognosis for health-care stocks?

(Read More: Crucial Rule Is Delayed for Obama's Health-Care Law)

The employer mandate "delay" in and of itself is likely not a material fundamental issue in the near term for any health-care company as it only delays the event by one year.

On the other hand, for managed-care companies—think Aetna, Humana—this is a slight negative as it represents a delay (albeit modest) of the planned expansion of insurance coverage for employees.

For hospital stocks—HCA Holdings, Tenet Healthcare, LifePoint Hospitals—investors see the greatest potential for harm. It has been anticipated that Obamacare would reduce the number of uninsured patients, and hence the bad-debt problems hospitals face as they cannot refuse care (even to the uninsured). The concern among investors is that other elements of Obamacare, such as the health insurance exchange, will also disappoint, and the hospitals will be left with unpaid bills.

For the pharma and biotech companies, including Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer, Celgene, Amgen, Gilead Sciences, and Biogen, and medical technology stocks such as Medtronic, Stryker and Abbott Laboratories, the pricing and fees associated with Obamacare are already in effect. Further, the market has not priced in any incremental benefit from induced demand from newly insured patients into the valuation of these stocks.

(Read More: Rising Rates Are Not a Bad Rx for Pharma: Ryan)

But the debate about whether Obamacare will ever get fully implemented is gaining steam—with arguments espoused by its critics looking increasingly credible. Nearly four years after its passage, it appears still too complex to implement. Yikes!

Further, the next event on the path to Obamacare—the expected rollout of the health insurance exchanges on Oct. 1, 2013 (to become effective on Jan. 1, 2014)—may also derail, causing even greater damage to the President's Affordable Care Act. Many Republican-led states appear to be dragging their feet on funding and implementation.

(Read More: Obamacare Delay Signals Single-Payer Shift: Dean)

If that occurs, the momentum is likely to shift even greater favor to the Republicans in the mid-term elections, as they are already expected to benefit from the backlash against the incumbent party over low employment and public disgust with the current political stalemate in Washington.

Barbara Ryan is a managing director in FTI Consulting's strategic communications consulting practice and a CNBC contributor. She has more than 31 years of Wall Street experience as a sell-side research analyst covering the pharmaceutical industry. She has worked at Bear Stearns, Prudential, Alex Brown and Deutsche Bank. In 2012, Ryan founded Barbara Ryan Advisors, a pharmaceutical consulting firm providing services to pharma companies, investment banks and institutional investors. Ryan is widely recognized as an authority on the trends and outlook for the global pharmaceutical industry and has been publishing her analysis throughout her career.

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