Why are health insurers so happy about Massachusetts?

Healthcare stocks surge along with GOP Senate prospects. Maybe reform isn't such a big fat sellout, after all

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 19, 2010 9:52PM (EST)

Some headlines to chew over as Massachusetts voters decide the future of civilization as we know it:

WSJ: "Healthcare Stocks Push Dow Toward 15-Month High."

Bloomberg: "Stocks Rise in U.S. on Speculation Healthcare Reform will Fail."

Reuters: "Wall Street Rallies on Close Massachusetts Race."

What do all these stories have in common? Answer: The presumption that a victory in Massachusetts for Republican Scott Brown would spell death for healthcare reform, and that such a result would be good for the healthcare insurance industry.


Stocks rose broadly on Tuesday as investors scooped up healthcare shares on bets that a potential Republican victory in Massachusetts' Senate race could stall U.S. President Barack Obama's reforms and remove a threat to profits in the sector.

But as the New Yorker's James Surowiecki observes, there's a paradox lurking here. Progressives  have been vociferously disenchanted with the version of the healthcare bill passed by the Senate, because they believe it is a sellout to the insurance industry.

Many of the healthcare bill's critics from the left have described it, and in particular the individual mandate, as a massive boon to the insurance industry. Investors, by contrast, seem to believe the opposite: the stalling of the bill would be a good thing for insurers' bottom lines.

So who is right? The investing class, or the angry left?

Could it be both? What if healthcare reform is too friendly to the industry, but at the same time, isn't as friendly as simply doing nothing at all would be. Wouldn't that be funny? In a slit-your-wrist kind of way?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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2010 Elections Healthcare Reform How The World Works Martha Coakley Scott Brown