Does Rising Stock Prove the Bill Is a Boon to Insurance Industry?

A fight erupts over numbers showing insurance industry stock values soaring

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As health care reform lumbers toward the finish line, insurance industry stocks are rising, causing consternation in the liberal ranks. Peerless number-cruncher Nate Silver calculates that the market values the bill as a $16.04 billion boost for the insurance industry. With progressives already worried about the bill's compromises, and some openly hostile to the legislation, one Huffington Post reporter writes that the market response shows "investors are seeing the Senate's version of health care reform as a massive public subsidy for insurance companies."

But is that the right takeaway? A blogger majority agrees that we shouldn't read into the numbers too much. But a vocal minority still sees the correlation as proof of a White House sellout.

  • Can We Really Draw Any Meaningful Conclusions from the Markets? "The market is a confusing beast," writes The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, who argues that the bill doesn't actually seem to be "in the market's estimation, a gamechanger for the insurance industry." He suggests this is a "bad way to understand the health bills." Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum concurs, noting that, in fact, insurance stocks have "been rising pretty steadily" for the past six months:
Generally speaking, you should always be wary of people attributing broad-based market rises to specific events, and this seems like a pretty good example. I'm not sure I'd read all that much into a very short-term market reaction here.
  • These Numbers Don't Mean What People Say They Do In his original analysis, Silver allowed that the spike in stock value "likely reflects an increase in the size of [companies'] customer base rather than any anticipation of higher profit margins." Reacting to liberal assertions that the spike showed the bill to be a handout to insurance industries, he adds,
the run-up in share prices in recent weeks reflects investor expectations about the "death" of the public option far more than it reflects investor excitement about the Senate's current plan vis-à-vis the status quo. How do we know this? Because the behavior of share prices since market close on Friday provides for a pretty decent controlled experiment ... Since close of business on Friday ... the prospects for public option-less reform have dramatically improved .... And since the markets re-opened yesterday morning, their reaction to the news has been fairly mild.
  • So Insurance Industries Profit Some--Get Over It Andrew Sullivan has a different question: "why is so much hostility to the bill wrapped up in the horror that private insurance companies might actually make some money off this?" The reform proposals never promised to completely abandon the private approach to insurance--and making money, Sullivan reasonably points out, is what "private companies are supposed to do." His conclusion: "It seems to me that many on the left so loathe these companies they'd rather leave people uninsured than allow the insurance industry to benefit. That strikes me as ideology speaking." Silver summing up his analysis, seems inclined to agree.
  • Insurance Companies Profit, Poor Get Screwed Progressive Jane Hamsher is livid looking at the stock performance since the public option was tossed: "We guarantee 40 million more customers to the insurance companies, then claim it's a good thing because the poor get a cup of coffee and a doughnut."
  • White House Friend of Special Interests Salon's Glenn Greenwald is likewise incensed, calculating that Sen. Evan Bayh's (D-IN) likely saw her investments in insurance stocks "[increase] by a value of between $125,000 and $250,000" in the past six weeks. Greenwald qualifies his condemnation a bit by saying he hasn't "advocated for the defeat of this bill" and that the bill's value to the insurance industry isn't the be-all-end-all. "But whatever else one might want to say in favor of this health care bill," he writes, "the notion that Democrats have "'stood up to the special interests who prevented reform for decades' is too blatantly false, insultingly so, to tolerate."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.