UnitedHealth Group's Optum to acquire dialysis-center chain DaVita for $4.9B

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DaVita, which bought HealthCare Partners five years ago as a way to become a major player in the care of people with chronic conditions, found itself struggling to make money on its medical group.

This move is part of a growing shift for health insurers to play a more direct role in actual medical services.

UnitedHealth's Optum health-services arm has been building up its roster of physician practices, clinics and surgery centers with years of mostly under-the-radar acquisitions, but DaVita's group represents its highest-profile deal so far in the doctor business. Optum also last month took over the health unit of Advisory Board Co., which advises hospital systems. DaVita's kidney dialysis unit is not included in the deal. Its shares gained less than 1 percent to $220.48 on Wednesday, lifting its market capitalization to more than $212 billion.

DaVita Medical Group operating around 300 clinics and half a dozen outpatient surgical centers in six states such as Florida, California, Colorado, Washington, Nevada and New Mexico.

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"Combining DaVita Medical Group and Optum advances our shared goal of supporting physicians in delivering exceptional patient care in innovative and efficient ways", Larry C. Renfro, Optum's chief executive, said in a news release.

Besides running urgent care clinics, Optum manages drug benefits and offers data analytics services to industry clients. The company already operates medical practices in Southern California and elsewhere, and it owns almost 250 MedExpress urgent-care clinics.

DaVita plans to use the funds from the deal to settle financial matters including stock repurchases from shareholders and paying off corporate debts. DaVita attributed the unit's third-quarter result to higher-than-projected medical costs and other factors.

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