Originally created 02/28/04

Regulators will allow health-care network deal



WASHINGTON - A merger creating the nation's largest managed care provider received approval from federal regulators Friday.

The Justice Department declined to block the deal between Anthem Inc. and WellPoint Health Networks Inc. on antitrust grounds. The cash and stock deal was valued at $14.3 billion when it was announced in October.

Under the proposed merger, the slightly smaller Anthem would acquire WellPoint, of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

The combined entity would keep the larger company's name but consolidate operations in Indianapolis, where Anthem is headquartered.

Leonard Schaeffer, the chairman and chief executive of WellPoint, has said the merged company hopes to "redefine the industry" with new products that offer their members more choices, better services including information, and simpler transactions.

Consumer groups have expressed concern about allowing the nation's two largest Blue Cross Blue Shield providers to merge.

"There's a concern of loss of choice within a given market," said Bob Hunter, the director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America. "Sometimes the impact can be minor and sometimes it can be severe. The bigger the companies that are merging, the more likely you're going to have several states with severe problems of loss of choice and access."

Anthem owns Blue plans in nine states: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. WellPoint operates Blue plans in California, Georgia and Missouri.

Shares of Anthem rose 58 cents to close at $85.95 on the New York Stock Exchange while shares of WellPoint Health Networks rose $1.05 to close at $108.77.