UnitedHealth's Optum to acquire DaVita Medical Group, DaVita up 3% premarket

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The nation's biggest health insurer is spending almost $5 billion to buy hundreds of clinics, just three days after rival Aetna announced a tie up with CVS Health Corp.

The acquisition, expected to be finalized in 2018, DaVita would add 300 primary and specialty care clinics that serve 1.7 million patients into the OptumCare division.

Health insurers are trying to cut medical costs by playing a more direct role in medical services, arguing they can save money by shifting patients to cheaper, more accessible locations for routine or non life-threatening emergency medical services.

On Sunday, CVS said it would pay about $69 billion for Aetna Inc., the nation's third-largest health insurer.

Optum already operates more than 1,100 primary, urgent care and surgery centers through a business it has been expanding. That deal could position the company as a one-stop-shop for basic health care, chronic disease monitoring, prescriptions and insurance to cover those goods and services.

Reuters reported last month that DaVita was exploring a sale of its medical unit.

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Besides running urgent care clinics, Optum manages drug benefits and offers data analytics services to industry clients.

Last January, UnitedHealth also acquired a chain of surgery centers, a move the company said could lower the expense of having an outpatient surgery by more than 50 percent. DaVita operates almost 300 clinics across a half-dozen states, including California and Florida, including eight in Manatee County and one in Lakewood Ranch just south of University Parkway. The group employs around 2,200 health-care providers, including doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

UnitedHealth bought Surgical Care Affiliates for about $2.3 billion in March. Both Aetna and UnitedHealth insist their goal is to develop a new model of care that will be available to people outside their respective health plans, and Optum says it now works with more than 80 health plans.

UnitedHealth has said Optum aims to provide primary care and ambulatory services in 75 markets, representing about two-thirds of the US population.

DaVita plans to use the funds from the deal to settle financial matters including stock repurchases from shareholders and paying off corporate debts.

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