Washington – While critics say it will never become law, investors are taking Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-All proposal seriously, and health insurer stocks have slid steadily since the senator rolled out his plan last week.
Anthem stock opened at $290.91 on April 10, the day Sanders introduced his proposal. By midday Wednesday the stock was trading at $230.91, a nearly 20 percent drop.
Bloomfield-based Cigna stock traded at $169 a share a week ago and was trading at about $144 a share on Wednesday.
Aetna stock, now trading as CVS Health stock, suffered much less, buoyed by optimism about the merger between the health insurer and CVS. But even CVS Health stock was down more than 3 percent midday on Wednesday.
Bloomberg estimated the shares of hospitals and insurers lost $28 billion in market value just in one day of trading on Tuesday, capping the worst five-day stretch since 2011 for health insurers, “despite UnitedHealth reporting earnings that beat analysts’ estimates and raising its 2019 forecast.”
Sanders’ Medicare-for-All proposal would create a government-run insurance program for all Americans modeled after the Medicare program that serves people who are 65 years old and older.
But the Sanders plan would be more generous than traditional Medicare, with patients paying nothing out of pocket when they visit a doctor. The plan would also cover hospital visits, primary care, medical devices, lab services, maternity care, and prescription drugs as well as vision and dental benefits.
Implementation of that plan would require support from majorities in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, which is unlikely as Democrats are split over the plan and Republicans are almost uniformly opposed to any type of government-run health care.
Implementation of a Medicare-for-All plan would also require that Sanders, or another presidential candidate that supports the plan, win the White House.
And then it would take four years for Americans to transition from their current health plans to Medicare-for-All.
Still, health insurers are shaken.
In a post-earnings conference call Tuesday, UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann said Medicare-for-All would “surely jeopardize the relationship people have with their doctors, destabilize the nation’s health system and limit the ability of clinicians to practice medicine at their best.”
But public support for a single-payer system has grown. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation last month, 56% of respondents supported a national health plan in which all Americans would get insurance from a single government plan, while 39 percent said they would oppose it.