Aetna, seeking antitrust nod, sells Medicare drug business to WellCare

(Reuters) – Health insurer Aetna Inc (AET.N) said on Thursday it will sell its standalone Medicare prescription drug plan business to WellCare Health Plans Inc (WCG.N) as it seeks U.S. antitrust approval for a planned acquisition by CVS Health Corp (CVS.N).

A logo of Aetna is displayed on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The $69 billion CVS-Aetna deal would be the second large deal this year between insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, a consolidation the companies say will help rein in rising U.S. healthcare costs.

CVS said separately that it expects the Aetna acquisition to close in the early part of the fourth quarter of this year.

Rival insurer Cigna Corp’s (CI.N) $52 billion acquisition of Express Scripts Holding Co (ESRX.O), the largest U.S. pharmacy benefit manager, which was announced after the CVS-Aetna transaction, has already passed U.S. Justice Department scrutiny.

Aetna did not disclose the terms of the sale to WellCare but said that the Medicare pharmacy prescription plans, known as Part D plans, covered more than 2.2 million members.

Wall Street analysts expected Aetna to sell all or some of its Medicare prescription drug business ahead of its combination with CVS, the largest manager of pharmacy drug plans for the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled.

The sale to WellCare aims to avoid an antitrust lawsuit over the amount of control it would have over the Medicare prescription drug market. Aetna said the asset sale is a “significant step” in the U.S. Justice Department review and that its closing is contingent on that antitrust approval.

WellCare, which specializes in government Medicare and Medicaid insurance plans, has only a small Medicare prescription drug plan business with about 4 percent market share, according to a recent research note from Barclays.

CVS has a 24 percent market share and Aetna has 8.7 percent, according to Barclays.

WellCare said it does not expect to recognize revenue from the deal until 2020 because the terms call for Aetna to provide administrative services and retain the financial risk related to the government plans through 2019.

Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York; Additional reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Jeffrey Benkoe

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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