Monday, July 9, 2012

Health-care Stocks: Medicaid insurers surge on Amerigroup deal

By Russ Britt, MarketWatch

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — Medicaid insurers surged in early trading Monday, anticipating a reshuffling among health carriers after WellPoint Inc. announced plans to buy Amerigroup Corp. for a 43% premium.

Shares of Amerigroup /quotes/zigman/265070/quotes/nls/agp AGP +38.17%  , a player in Medicaid coverage, were catapulted by 38% after WellPoint /quotes/zigman/362231/quotes/nls/wlp WLP +3.17%  , one of the nation’s biggest insurers, agreed to pay $92 a share for the company, or $4.9 billion. Amerigroup shares were up $24.46 to $88.80 while WellPoint shares were up nearly 3% to $61.50.

Health insurer WellPoint is buying Amerigroup for $4.9 billion, bringing together two major health-care carriers. (Photo: Associated Press)

The news sent shares of other Medicaid insurers soaring, as the market apparently now expects more mergers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul bill. The ruling preserved the federal expansion of the Medicaid program for indigent patients, though the court ruled that it’s not mandatory for states to participate.

Fellow Medicaid insurer Centene Corp. /quotes/zigman/292665/quotes/nls/cnc CNC +19.32%  posted a 20% gain to $34.73 on the news. Other Medicaid insurers to bask in the glow were WellCare Health Plans Inc. /quotes/zigman/341770/quotes/nls/wcg WCG +18.47%  , which was up more than 18% to $62.39, while Molina Healthcare Inc. /quotes/zigman/317140/quotes/nls/moh MOH +16.78%  surged by 14% to $26.31.

Analysts said, however, that WellPoint wasn’t reacting to the Supreme Court ruling by making the deal for Amerigroup. The move allows WellPoint to have substantial lines of business in both Medicare and Medicaid.

But the deal will also allow Indianapolis-based WellPoint to benefit from the Medicaid expansion, analyst Chris Rigg of Susquehanna Financial Group said in a morning note to clients.

“There is uncertainty around states’ willingness to participate in the expansion program but if all states opt in, approximately 17 million uninsured lives are expected to be covered through Medicaid expansion,” Rigg wrote. He added that the new company would have a presence in the four largest dual-eligible states, with potential revenue of $100 million.

Deutsche Bank’s Scott Fidel concurred, adding that Amerigroup, headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va., was probably the best-positioned Medicaid player.

“This acquisition significantly enhances WellPoint’s Medicaid franchise providing the company with the best pure-play asset and management team in Medicaid managed care, in our view,” Fidel said in a note to clients.

Russ Britt is the Los Angeles bureau chief for MarketWatch.

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