Walgreen worries about public option…

October 27, 2009

With the news yesterday that some form of the public option for healthcare appears to be moving forward, we can probably expect more companies to start including warnings like Walgreen (WAG) did in the 10-K it filed yesterday:

The Federal government has been considering proposals to reform the U.S. health care system. These proposals may increase government involvement in health care, increase regulation of pharmacy services, result in changes to pharmacy reimbursement rates, and otherwise change the way we do business. The effect of these proposals could have an impact on our results of operations.

The risk factor is a new one for Walgreen, but they’re hardly the only company starting to publicly fret. Just this morning, Centene (CNC) issued a similar warning in their 10-Q. Indeed, we count over 30 companies that have issued similar warnings so far this October, compared with fewer than 10 in October 2008.

Now Walgreen’s warning is particularly interesting because in the 10-K, they note that prescriptions account for 65% of their sales and that 95% of those were reimbursed by third parties. So we decided to also take a look at campaign contributions being made by Walgreen employees — mostly executives — and it’s pretty clear that a number of the key Senators and Congressmen/women in the healthcare debate are recipients. This data is actually donations made by Walgreen Co PAC, which is where the majority of company employees who contribute to campaigns seem to be sending their money.

Now maybe we’re just being overly sensitive to this issue lately since last week, I had to pick up a prescription from Walgreen competitor CVS (CVS) and shelled out $91 for something I’ve bought in the past overseas for under $10. But the state of healthcare in this country is strangling both small businesses like footnoted — and many large businesses too that can’t afford to provide their employees with adequate healthcare coverage.

So here’s hoping something actually gets done this time in Washington and many more companies than the 30-odd we’ve found so far start issuing similar warnings.

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