Financial Accounting Blog

Monday, June 21, 2004

Earnings management. The 2003 Medicare Reform act doesn't come into effect until 2006. However, companies are able to take advantage of it already in estimating future retirement healthcare benefits.
Long-range estimates of drug subsidies also provide firms with an opportunity to engage in a bit of earnings management. That's because the forecasts add gray areas to the task of figuring out a company's future overall retiree health-care liabilities. Predicting the eventual size of the subsidies, after all, involves forecasting such big unknowns as the future of retiree prescription-drug use, the prospects for pharmaceutical innovation, and the future cost of the drugs.
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By providing companies with the chance to lowball their liability estimates — and, ultimately, cut reported expenses — the subsidies offer new leeway in using OPEB [other postretirement employee benefits] numbers to hit earnings targets, says Georgia Tech accounting professor Charles Mulford.