Speed Reads

GOP tax plan

Health insurers made billions from the GOP tax cut. They're keeping almost all their windfall.

In your periodic reminder that the U.S. has a for-profit health-care system, health insurers and other health-care companies will save tens of billions from the Republican tax overhaul but "patients should not expect the health industry's windfall to lead to lower premiums, reduced prices, or major industry changes," Bob Herman and Caitlin Owens report at Axios. They discovered this by listening to the health-care companies, perusing their fourth-quarter financial reports and conference calls with investors.

The 21 publicly traded companies Axios looked at "collectively expect to gain $10 billion in tax savings in 2018 alone," Herman and Owens write. "Most of the money is going toward share buybacks, dividends, acquisitions, and paying down debt — with just a sliver for one-time employee bonuses, research, and internal investments." Few pharmaceutical companies were included in the Axios data, but drugmakers are already spending at least $50 billion on new stock buybacks, and they and medical device companies are also repatriating tens of billions from offshore accounts, bolstering their bottom lines.

It isn't just health care — U.S. companies have announced more than $218 billion in share buybacks since the GOP passed the law in December, investment research firm TrimTabs said last week. The $153.7 billion in buybacks in February alone broke the previous record of $133 billion in April 2015, and "if the pace keeps up, this year's volume will smash totals from all other previous years going back more than a decade," TrimTabs analyst Winston Chua said in the report.

"Those so-called buybacks are good for shareholders, including the senior executives who tend to be big owners of their companies' stock," Matt Phillips explains at The New York Times. "A company purchasing its own shares is a time-tested way to bolster its stock price. But the purchases can come at the expense of investments in things like hiring, research and development, and building new plants — the sort of investments that directly help the overall economy."