WellCare agrees to buy Calif. health plan operator

WellCare says it agreed to buy Medicare Advantage plan operator Easy Choice of California

Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- WellCare Health Plans Inc. said Thursday it agreed to buy Easy Choice Health Plan Inc., which offers Medicare Advantage plans in California.

The companies not disclose the price of the deal.

WellCare said Easy Choice covers about 34,000 Medicare Advantage plan members in Southern California, including 12,000 people who get Medicare Advantage coverage and are also on Medicaid. In 2013 Easy Choice plans to expand its offerings to San Diego and Northern California. WellCare said the deal should close during the fourth quarter and add to its net income in 2013.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval. WellCare said Easy Choice Medicare Advantage plan members won't have any changes in their benefits or coverage in 2012 and will be told about their benefits and coverage during the annual Medicare enrollment period this fall.

WellCare provides managed care for the government-sponsored health plans of Medicare, which covers the elderly and disabled, and Medicaid, which focuses on poor and disabled people. Medicare Advantage plans are privately run, subsidized versions of Medicare.

People who get health coverage from both Medicare and Medicaid are called "dual eligibles." They generate large numbers of medical claims and high expenses, so the federal government and state governments have been working to move more of those people to private insurance.

Easy Choice does business in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, and in 2013 it plans to expand into seven other counties.

WellCare said covered about 158,000 Medicare Advantage members in 11 states as of June 30 and expects to do business in 14 states in 2013.

Shares of WellCare Health Plans, which is based in Tampa, Fla., rose $1.96, or 3.4 percent, to $59.98 on Thursday.

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