Now is the time (if it wasn’t weeks ago) for investor relations people to get on top of the question: What impact will President Obama’s healthcare overhaul have on our companies?
The ObamaCare question will be asked in first-quarter conference calls and one-on-one conversations, and companies ought to disclose the material impacts either before first-quarter earnings or in their normal reporting.
Already the disclosures have begun to emerge after the president’s March 23 signing of the new government framework for health insurance. For example:
- AT&T said Friday it will take a $1 billion noncash charge when it reports first-quarter earnings. In a brief 8-K, the phone company said the charge reflects loss of a tax benefit for subsidizing retiree healthcare costs. AT&T also said it will review its health benefits in light of the new law and the added tax burden.
- 3M issued a news release and filed with the SEC on Friday, saying it expects an after-tax charge of $85 to $90 million, about 12 cents a share, when it reports first-quarter results. 3M did a more thorough job of explaining: ObamaCare eliminates a tax benefit for company payments that subsidize retiree prescription drug coverage. Under the new law, the extra tax bite doesn’t hit until 2013, but the change reduces the value of a deferred tax benefit on 3M’s books, so GAAP requires a charge now.
- Caterpillar filed an 8-K estimating its tax hit at approximately $100 million, again to be recognized in Q1. Deere & Co. estimated its charge at $150 million, AK Steel at $31 million … and we can expect many more.
These filings with the SEC are not about politics, but bookkeeping, of course. Just another development that may require an 8-K and explanation in the next 10-Q. But editorial writers were quick to seize on the announcements as an “I told you so” moment on ObamaCare (The Wall Street Journal here, Investors Business Daily here). And now Congress wants to call these evil companies on the carpet for – the horror – disclosing the cost of the new healthcare law in a timely manner.
Without wading further into the swamps of Washington, let’s just pay attention to our own duty as investor relations people: Each of us should be asking internally – if we haven’t already – what impact the health overhaul law will have. And how we need to disclose that, either now or with our upcoming quarterly results.
In a broader way, investors will be looking to companies in the biopharma, medical equipment, hospital and other health industries to provide analysis and forward-looking perspective on how ObamaCare will help (or hurt) future results.