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(Reuters) — U.S. health insurer Aetna Inc. is close to buying rival Humana Inc., and a deal could be signed as early as this weekend, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Humana has also received an offer from Cigna Corp., but Humana's board prefers the offer from Aetna, Bloomberg reported.
Aetna and Humana were in talks, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday, adding that there was no certainty Aetna would prevail. Cigna is also in the running, a second source confirmed to Reuters.
Aetna made a formal cash-and-stock bid this week to buy Humana, Bloomberg said.
Humana, which had a market value of $27.59 billion as of Wednesday's close, and Aetna were not immediately available for comment. Cigna declined to comment.
Reuters has previously reported that Humana is in takeover talks with Aetna and Cigna.
Bloomberg said discussions between Humana and Aetna intensified in the past few days after it emerged over the weekend that rivals Anthem Inc. and Cigna had held merger talks of their own.
Anthem said on Saturday it had offered $47 billion in cash and stock for smaller rival Cigna, who rebuffed the offer the next day.
The intensifying talks come as insurers seek scale to trim administrative costs and negotiate lower prices with doctors, moves they say will make plans more affordable.
Aetna's shares jumped 4.3% to record high of $133.05 after the report, while Humana's shares were up 6.5% at $196.21 in afternoon trading.
Cigna shares rose 2.7% to a record high of $170.20, before giving up some gains to trade up 1% at $167.51.
A deal struck between any of the five major U.S. health insurers could cause a domino effect of merger and acquisition activity in the managed care sector, according to Fitch Ratings Inc.