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Reading between the lines

3/26/2014

The smart money appears to be on the future success of the Affordable Care Act. At least that's the conclusion inferred in a recent issue of Bloomberg Business Week (Feb. 24 to March 2 edition). Meanwhile Kansas politicians continue to fight the new law.

The smart money appears to be on the future success of the Affordable Care Act. At least that's the conclusion inferred in a recent issue of Bloomberg Business Week (Feb. 24 to March 2 edition). Meanwhile Kansas politicians continue to fight the new law.

In the Bloomberg article, writer Joshua Green details the activities of a new online broker, Motif Investing, co-founded by a former Microsoft executive and backed by Goldman Sachs and other investors. The company allows investors to bet on targeted baskets of 30 sector-focused stocks called "motifs." Two of the hottest investments at the moment are in what is referred to as the "Obamacare" motif, and the "Repeal Obamacare" motif.

The Obamacare motif includes groups such as hospitals, generic drug makers, pharmacy benefit managers and companies specializing in electronic medical records, all concerns that will benefit from the success of the new health law and its emphasis on cost control and guarantee of payment.

Conversely, the Repeal Obamacare motif includes entities such as medical device manufacturers, assisted and home health providers and medical diagnostic equipment and service providers. Companies in these areas would stand to do better with the law's demise because of reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates and the law's efforts to curb unnecessary tests.

According to the article, the Obamacare motif has increased 46.9 percent in the past year, whereas the Repeal Obamacare motif has appreciated 13.8 percent. But, maybe more telling is the fact investors betting on the success of the new law have put more money into the fund as opposed to those betting on its failure by a ratio of 45:1.

The piece notes, as opposed to the political arena and public discourse, within the investment community the "permanence of the law is taken for granted while prospect of repeal is given practically no credence." Other evidence is given to back up the statement, including the fact that exchange traded funds specializing in health care have seen their assets more than double (from $7 billion to $16 billion) since the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in June 2012.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Legislature spent the past week discussing and voting on a measure that would subject health care navigators (individuals trained to assist individuals purchasing insurance through the federal exchanges) to background and credit checks. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, claims the proposal is necessary to protect Kansans. But the true goal of this requirement is to obstruct, rather than protect Kansans wanting to procure health insurance. Pilcher-Cook is well-known for her vociferous opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Her cynical intent is clearly to see as few a number of citizens as possible sign up for health insurance via the exchange.

The bill is debated against the backdrop of Gov. Sam Brownback's staunch refusal to extend Medicaid to the 180,000 Kansans who would qualify for such benefits under the new law. This group includes those whose incomes are above the current Medicaid eligibility limit but below the federal poverty line. As a result, they are eligible for neither Medicaid nor subsidized coverage on the federal exchanges.

These fellow citizens find themselves in the new doughnut hole. Brownback, a lifetime government employee with health insurance, and his allies in the Legislature show callous insensitivity towards these individuals with their myopic, ideological opposition to the new law.

The Bloomberg article implies the battle largely is finished. It notes the Affordable Care Act had begun to transform our health care landscape long before the exchanges opened with its focus on the quality of care, incentives for hospitals to reduce readmission rates and move towards higher deductible plans.

Green ends his commentary by noting some of the harshest opponents of health care reform in the U.S. Senate now are proponents of many of its main features. And while Kansas politicians continue to fight the new law, investors are, in the words of the article, "betting billions of dollars that the Affordable Care Act will succeed."

Alan Jilka is a businessman and former mayor of Salina.

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