Despite wavering Republican support for Donald Trump’s health care bill, Wall Street is already betting the Obamacare repeal plan will pass in Congress this week.
Just as President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was seen as a boon to hospital and other health care stocks, President Trump’s desire to roll back his predecessor’s health reform law has threatened those same companies’ share prices since he won the election. And while many investors are, for the time being, simply steering clear of health care stocks whose future hinges on Americans’ access to affordable insurance, hospital stocks in particular have become a proxy for the perceived likelihood that Trumpcare will repeal and replace Obamacare.
In other words, when investors doubt the Republicans’ ability to repeal and replace Obamacare, hospital stocks rise; when they believe the GOP health care plan will pass, hospital stocks fall. A similar phenomenon occurred during the presidential campaign, when the Mexican peso swooned as Trump gained strength in the polls and other stocks fluctuated depending on which candidate was pulling ahead.
As President Trump tried to rally lawmakers around the plan this week, known as the American Health Care Act, U.S. hospital stocks plunged in their biggest drop since he took office. A Bloomberg index of seven North American hospital chains has fallen nearly 8% over the past three days, with Tenet Healthcare (THC) down more than 10%, Community Health Systems (CYH) down 12%, and Quorum Health (QHC) sinking more than 16%. Though some of those losses came on Tuesday when banks dragged U.S. stocks down in their worst day so far this year, the magnitude of the hospital selloff was even bigger.
With the new GOP health care bill expected to leave 14 million fewer Americans with health insurance next year, investors fear those hospitals could lose that many patients, as those people may no longer be able to afford to seek care.
And that fear has spiked just in the last few days in a sign that investors increasingly think Trump’s health care plan will become law. Hospital stocks got crushed the day after Trump won the presidential election, with the Bloomberg index down 14% and Tenet Healthcare, the worst performer, sinking 25%. But just a month ago, those stocks had completely bounced back, more than recovering their post-election losses as investors grew skeptical that the administration would be able to repeal Obamacare.
But that all changed when Trump unveiled the Republican health care plan earlier this month, causing the Bloomberg hospital index to fall more than 4% the following day, with the losses deepening this week as the vote in Congress drew closer. Quorum Health initially tumbled as much as 5% Wednesday, while Patterson Companies (PDCO), a medical supplier, shed nearly 2% and Tenet shares fell almost as much.
Still, those stocks regained some ground in the afternoon as uncertainty persisted over whether Trump would get enough votes to pass the bill, with some Republican lawmakers swearing to vote against it on Thursday. Quorum ended the day down 4%, while Patterson closed down 1% and Tenet down 0.5%.
The stock market, of course, is no reliable oracle—its prediction for the presidential election turned out to be wrong. And unlike the election, investors won’t get to vote directly on the passage of Trumpcare. But with no clear outcome for a bill that is unpopular with both conservatives and liberal lawmakers alike, hospital stocks are one of the riskiest bets on the market right now.