The Associated Press June 4, 2012, 08:47AM ET

Health insurer WellPoint to buy 1-800 Contacts

WellPoint Inc. plans to buy contact lens retailer 1-800-Contacts Inc. in a deal that would give the insurer its first direct-to-consumer business outside selling individual health coverage.

Terms of the deal with private equity firm Fenway Partners were not disclosed.

WellPoint, based in Indianapolis, said Monday that the eyewear company will help diversify its revenue sources with a high-margin business. WellPoint is the second-largest U.S. health insurer based on both revenue and enrollment, trailing only UnitedHealth Group Inc.

It runs Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in 14 states, including California and New York.

Health insurance is WellPoint's main product, and the insurer said in April its total medical membership fell nearly 2 percent to 33.7 million people compared to the end of last year. The company lost enrollment in its two largest membership segments, plans that provide health insurance to employees of small businesses and large, national accounts.

1-800 Contacts fills orders for contact lens by phone, internet, mail or fax. It sells disposable and color lenses among other types. It also offers brands like Acuvue, Focus, FreshLook and PureVision and operates a partnership with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer.

It also sells eye glasses through its glasses.com website.

WellPoint Chairwoman and CEO Angela Braly said in a statement that 1-800 Contacts serves about 3.3 million customers, but it comes with a significant growth opportunity because there are more than 38 million people wearing eye contact lenses and more than 140 million people wearing eye glasses in the United States.

The deal requires regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions but is expected to close in the third quarter.

WellPoint said it will be financed with cash on hand, and its 2012 earnings will take a hit of 4 cents per share due to transaction and integration costs.

Its shares finished at $66.36 on Friday. They are up 17 percent from their 52-week low of $56.61 in August. They peaked at $80.90 last July.


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