Health Care: Obamacare M&A Trumps Weak Earnings Outlook

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As health care sector earnings season begins, a key focus will be on industry consolidation after the Supreme Court's confirmation of the Affordable Care Act. Disappointing near-term revenue and profit trends could take a back seat to optimism about Obamacare leading to mergers and acquisitions.

The nation's top court upheld Obamacare in June, and on July 9 managed care giant WellPoint ( WLP) said it would buy Amerigroup ( AGP), a managed care specialist focusing on Medicaid and Medicare plans, for $4.9 billion. That deal sparked speculation other sector giants, including Humana ( HUM), Cigna ( CI), Aetna ( AET) and UnitedHealth ( UNH), would also look to make acquisitions.

In the least, with a weak earnings outlook for health care providers as they brace for the impact of Obamacare, M&A is expected to be one of two key topics of discussion for CEOs, alongside post-health care reform policy loss ratio estimates.

" Medical loss ratios will once again be the area of primary focus although we will also be looking for further insights into the M&A environment (particularly in Medicaid) following WellPoint's announced acquisition of Amerigroup," wrote Deutsche Bank analyst Scott Fidel in a sector earnings outlook.

WellPoint's near $5 billion deal for Amerigroup in early July came at a 43% premium and will give it 4.5 million new state-sponsored health care accounts and some dual eligible managed care customers, in a move that will add to the company's existing 65-plus million health care customers including those under Blue Cross and Blue Shield private plans. Managed care stocks plummeted after the Supreme Court decision, but WellPoint's shares have rallied since the deal was announced.

"From the consolidators' perspective, attention has now shifted over to Aetna given its arguably sub-optimal platform in Medicare & Medicaid and to Humana since investors are showing skepticism around their duals strategy to partner with local Medicaid plans," added Fidel in his Wednesday outlook. Fidel said CEOs may try to talk down M&A efforts in second quarter earnings conferences, however, "investors should recall that WellPoint's CFO also complained vigorously about high valuations in Medicaid right up until agreeing to pay a hefty valuation for Amerigroup."

Since WellPoint's acquisition, Medicaid and Medicare-exposed healthcare providers like Molina Healthcare ( MOH), Centene ( CNC) and WellCare ( WCG) have surged over 15% on speculation they will be the next takeover candidates.

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