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Health sector M&A picks up


Merger and acquisition activity in the health insurance sector is regaining momentum after an absence of major deals in 2006.

"Although we had kind of a hiatus in terms of consolidation transactions in 2006, 2007 seems to have really picked up," said Shellie Stoddard, a director with Standard & Poor's Corp. in New York.

The biggest deal so far this year is UnitedHealth's proposed $2.6 billion acquisition of Las Vegas-based Sierra Health Services Inc., which is opposed by consumer and provider groups. The insurers recently received a request for additional information from the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the proposed merger.

Some other deals are also in the works.

Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna Inc. last month announced a plan to acquire for $535 million Phoenix-based Schaller Anderson Inc., a provider of health care management services for Medicaid plans and a manager of commercial self-funded health plans.

Bethesda, Md.-based Coventry Health Care Inc. announced in April that it would acquire Mutual of Omaha's commercial employer group health business in Nebraska and Iowa as well as its national Federal Employees Health Benefits administration business for $120 million.

New York-based insurers HIP Health Plan of New York and Group Health Inc. are working on a plan to merge as a for-profit entity and Pittsburgh-based Highmark Inc. and Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross are seeking regulatory approval to merge as well.