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WellCare buys NJ Medicaid coverage provider

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- WellCare Health Plans Inc. is buying the New Jersey Medicaid operations of insurer Healthfirst as part of a push to expand its presence in the state and federally funded program.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

WellCare, based in Tampa, Fla., said Monday that Healthfirst Health Plan of New Jersey Inc. serves about 47,000 people with Medicaid coverage in 12 counties. WellCare will acquire Healthfirst's membership and physician rosters.

The insurer said it expects that the deal will help its earnings next year, but it didn't say in a brief statement by how much.

Medicaid provides health coverage for poor and disabled people, and states hire insurers like WellCare to administer the coverage. The company also operates Medicaid coverage in Missouri, South Carolina and Florida, among others.

New Jersey is one of several states that will expand its Medicaid enrollment starting next year as part of the health care overhaul, the massive federal law that aims to provide coverage for millions of uninsured people.

WellCare recently received approval from New Jersey officials to provide Medicaid managed care in Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Passaic and Union counties starting in December.

Shares of WellCare fell 44 cents to $68.65 Monday in late-morning trading, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index also dropped less than 1 percent. The stock is up about 41 percent so far this year.