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Health care reform: Wax on, wax off

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Company write-downs in the wake of health care reform are coming fast and furious. AT&T announced $1 billion, John Deere and Boeing are in for $150 million each. A White House aide claims it’s a political statement by “Republican CEOs.” As the Wall Street Journal sarcastically notes, yes, these CEOs are willing to destroy shareholder value simply for spite.

It’s a ridiculous assertion made by an increasing ridiculous administration desperate to draw attention from the bill’s real faults. Higher costs and job losses? Partisan smears. Hidden taxes and punitive fines? Tea Party crazies.

Congressman Henry Waxman now summons said CEOs to Capitol Hill, with an offer they can’t refuse, to explain why these write-downs are occurring. Simple answer–SEC rules require companies file their write-down intent as soon as they’re able to surmise anything that could be a threat to performance, which health care costs surely are. This was the rule Waxman himself sponsored in order to capitalize on populist outrage in the wake of Enron. Companies are simply abiding by his rule, and are being called to testify before his committee about suspected partisan trickery. He’s crying foul over their simple adherence to what he called for.

I’m often asked by detractors what stories like this have to do with baby boomer retirement. I always answer that if you don’t know how health care reform could possibly affect your clients’ retirement, then I pray for your clients. This is no longer just about the cost and penalties related to reform itself, but also about the strength and solvency of the underlying companies in the retirement portfolio. And it’s only the beginning …


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