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UnitedHealth Group's Optum division for health care services is paying about $300 million to acquire a Michigan-based specialty-pharmacy company that also provides infusion services for patients.

As part of the deal announced Monday, Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth also would assume the debt of Diplomat Pharmacy Inc., which analysts said is valued at about $540 million.

The acquisition price of $4 per share is roughly a 30% discount to Diplomat's market value on Friday, and the acquired company's stock traded down sharply on Monday. Diplomat has a track record of providing specialty pharmacy and infusion services, analysts said, but ran into trouble developing a pharmaceutical benefits management (PBM) business.

"The entrance into the PBM market has not panned out as the company probably had hoped," wrote Steven Halper, an analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald, in a note to investors. "That said, we view the acquisition as a solid move for [UnitedHealth] from both a strategic and financial standpoint."

UnitedHealth Group is Minnesota's largest company by revenue. In addition to Optum, the company runs a health benefits business called UnitedHealthcare, which is the nation's largest health insurer.

Scheduled to close early next year, the deal announced Monday is the latest in a series to expand the breadth of services offered by OptumRx, which is primarily known for operating one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical benefits managers.

PBMs run the pharmacy portion of health plan coverage for health insurers and large employers by negotiating drug prices, structuring pharmacy benefits and creating networks of drugstores where patients can fill prescriptions at the lowest cost. OptumRx also runs a large specialty pharmacy, which manages how patients access a subset of medications that have above-average costs.

In a Monday statement, John Prince, the chief executive of OptumRx, said of the latest acquisition: "This combination will expand the innovative specialty pharmacy and infusion solutions OptumRx can offer to the consumers and clients we serve."

Diplomat was founded in 1975 and employs about 2,200 people. The company operates in 50 states and dispensed 918,000 prescriptions last year, generating annual revenue of $5.5 billion. But Diplomat saw a net loss of $302 million last year due in part to client losses in the PBM business.

"We believe the offer price and discount reflect operational challenges and recent business losses at Diplomat," wrote A.J. Rice, an analyst with Credit Suisse, in a note to investors. "This acquisition gives [UnitedHealth] access to more limited distribution drugs and [Diplomat's] infusion business."

OptumRx has 900 clinicians across the country, Rice wrote, who work with patients to receive in-home infusions of medications. Andrew Witty, the Optum chief executive, explained the infusion business during an investor conference earlier this month by describing a patient who repeatedly visited emergency rooms due to trouble administering her medication.

"An Optum specialty pharmacist found a drug that worked just as well, but was much simpler for her to take," Witty said. "This switch has improved her quality of life and reduced her care cost by as much as $21,000 a month. By allowing patients to administer medicine at home, we can deliver savings of up to 50% per infusion compared to a hospital setting."

In October 2018, UnitedHealth announced the acquisition of a Phoenix-based specialty pharmacy called Avella, but did not disclose financial terms. The announcement came one month after UnitedHealth said it was acquiring Genoa Health, which runs pharmacies in behavioral health clinics, for a reported $2.5 billion.

Shares of Diplomat closed down more than 32% on Monday at $3.92. UnitedHealth Group shares declined nearly 1% to close at $277.65.

Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744 Twitter: @chrissnowbeck