UnitedHealth to buy most of Brazil’s Amil for $4.9 billion

NEW YORK, Mon Oct 8, 2012 – UnitedHealth Group Inc said it would buy a 90 percent stake in Amil Participacoes SA, Brazil’s largest health insurer and hospital operator, for $4.9 billion, tapping into a fast-growing private healthcare market as challenges mount for its U.S. business.

The deal announced on Monday follows a series of multibillion-dollar takeovers by U.S. health insurers in their home market, including Aetna Inc.’s $5.6 billion buy of rival Coventry Health Care Inc. and WellPoint Inc.’s planned $4.5 billion purchase of Amerigroup Corp.

“(Brazil’s) growing economy, emerging middle class and progressive policies toward managed care make it a high- potential growth market,” UnitedHealth Chief Executive Stephen Hemsley said in a statement.

U.S. health insurers have come under pressure as the government reins in reimbursement for its Medicaid and Medicare programs for the poor and the elderly and as competition grows among health plans serving employers.

The deal with Amil adds to a growing international business at UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. health insurer. The company has begun operations or struck alliances in Australia, the Middle East and the UK during the past two years.

Buying the stake in Amil gives UnitedHealth a chance to test a different model of medical service: Amil offers insurance coverage and also runs hospitals and doctor facilities. While some examples of this already exist in the United States, the largest U.S. insurance companies for the most part operate separately from networks of doctors and other healthcare providers.