Anthem to buy palliative care provider Aspire

After months of sitting out of the flurry of mergers and acquisitions between insurers and providers, Anthem has made its first move by announcing it will acquire Aspire, the largest non-hospice, community-based palliative care provider in the U.S.

“With the addition of Aspire Health to Anthem’s other clinical care assets such as CareMore Health and AIM, we will be able to offer our consumers, customers, and other health plan and provider partners a broader array of programs and services that meet their diverse needs and drive future growth opportunities for our company,” Anthem president and CEO Gail Boudreaux said in a press release.

After the horizontal mergers combining Anthem with Cigna and Aetna with Humana fell apart in 2017, the other major insurers looked to vertical integrations between health plans and providers. These included Aetna’s proposed acquisition by CVS Health, Cigna merging with Express Scripts and Humana buying parts of Kindred Healthcare. UnitedHealthcare’s Optum unit continued proposing a series of comparably smaller deals, like its $4.9 billion acquisition of DaVita Medical Group.

By sitting on the sidelines, financial analysts believed Anthem was keeping its options open for future growth.

Aspire represents a different kind of provider than Anthem’s insurer rivals have looked to acquire. The company, co-founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, MD, was formed in 2013. It currently contracts with more than 20 health plans to offer palliative care services in 25 states.

“Several studies have repeatedly demonstrated how advanced illness programs can provide high patient and family satisfaction, reduce hospitalization, and decrease costs,” said Aspire CEO Brad Smith. “As part of Anthem, we believe we will be able to further scale our model and positively impact the lives of even more consumers and families, making home-based advanced illness care available to patients who need it.”

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year and begin adding to Anthem’s earnings in 2019.