The White House's decision to delay penalties for employers that don't offer health insurance came as a blow to hospital stocks, as investors factored in less volume and more uncertainty than they had anticipated.
The largest publicly traded hospital operators took a hit ranging from 3% to 5.5% as investors digested the news that employers with more than 50 workers will now have a reprieve from penalties until 2015.
HCA ended the day trading down 3.9%, while Tenet Healthcare Corp. closed 4.3% lower and Universal Health Services, 3.5%.
The announcement, which came in a blog post yesterday evening from Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur, said the one-year delay allows more time to simplify reporting requirements and adapt reporting systems.
The post was careful to stress that the employer mandate is the only provision of the healthcare law being delayed, and that employees will continue to have access to premium tax credits. Analysts similarly did not expect to see a major impact from the rule change on hospital volumes, but noted that the delay does raise questions about whether there could be more missed deadlines and delays down the road.