Centene acquires NextLevel Health Partners
… Centene Acquires NextLevel Health Partners …


Centene continues its aggressive growth through acquisition in heavily-regulated, high risk managed care market sectors

John G. Baresky

Centene (NYSE: CNC) continues to strategically expand with its purchase of Chicago, Illinois-based NextLevel Health Partners. The deal will enable Centene to add over 54,000 Medicaid members to its ranks and accomplishes something that one of its closest rivals, Molina Healthcare, was not able to achieve.

The NextLevel Health Partners membership has a large footprint in the greater Chicago, Illinois marketplace and the densely populated inner-city Cook County area. This positions Centene to gain greater market access within one of the largest urban healthcare marketplaces in the nation plus enables it to establish further relationships with numerous physicians and healthcare provider organizations.

Centene will be aligning the acquired NextLevel membership within their Meridian Health Plan of Illinois portfolio of plans. Meridian has been operating in Illinois since 2008 and already has about 750,000 Medicare plan members. By conducting this smaller scale acquisition exercise, Centene adds to its membership, fortifies its position in a highly coveted urban market and successfully executes its market access strategy without incurring a large amount of debt.

In 2019 Centene acquired Tampa, Florida-based WellCare for $15 billion. This addition to Centene brought them to over 22 million total covered lives. While Centene did have to divest a small portion of its members to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to satisfy regulators, Centene nonetheless achieved a significant milestone goal.

Some of the other sizable managed care organization acquisitions Centene has orchestrated include the purchases of Fidelis Care (New York State Catholic Health Plan) for $3.7 billion in 2017 and in 2016 Centene bought Health Net for $6.8 billion.

By combining mammoth acquisitions like these with WellCare plus the smaller-scale deals like the NextLevel purchase, helps Centene to fill the gaps in regional, state and metropolitan area coverage to further expand marketing and sales initiatives.

One of Centene’s direct competitors in the Medicaid and Medicare sectors, Molina Healthcare, recently acquired Magellan Complete Care for $820 million. Molina (NYSE: MOH) is trying to stay competitive and bolster the $16 billion in sales it generated in 2019. Earlier in 2020 Molina tried but failed to acquire NextLevel Health Partners.

Centene is a respected leader in the Medicaid and Medicare markets. Their Medicaid business unit supports TANF, CHIP, foster care, ABD and long-term care sectors.

Centene’s primary large scale competitors, which include Anthem, Cigna, CVS/Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group/Optum, market plans in these sectors but limit the scope of their exposure to ensure profitability and reduce risk. Centene also operates medical and pharmacy benefit plans and services for DHA/TRICARE and correctional facilities.

Centene excels by specializing in these more administratively complex and heavily regulated sectors. These typically produce less income when compared to standard commercial health plans and large employer groups.

Centene’s focus, level of experience and proven ability to simultaneously manage multiple challenges of risk, acquisition and regulatory changes provide them with a competitive edge. Founded in 1984 and headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri Centene generated almost $75 billion in 2019 and is ranked at number 51 in the Fortune 500.

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