Centerbridge, FFL offer nearly $2 billion for Highmark’s vision unit, say sources: Reuters

Buyout firms Centerbridge Partners LP and Friedman Fleischer & Lowe LLC (FFL) have teamed up to buy U.S. health insurer Highmark Health‘s vision unit for close to $2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

A deal would provide a cash boost to the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit as it tries to cope with losses as a result of covering patients in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia under U.S. President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Highmark has spoken with several companies and private equity firms about the vision unit, which is called HVHC Inc, the people familiar with the matter said this week.

There is no certainty that the consortium of Centerbridge and FFL will prevail with its offer, the people added. The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.

“HVHC has historically drawn, and continues to regularly attract, interest from potential buyers,” Highmark said in a statement. “However, there is nothing to report at this time about any potential transaction.”

Centerbridge and FFL declined to comment.

Highmark’s vision unit is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. Its businesses include Davis Vision, which provides managed vision care benefits, Visionworks, with more than 700 retail optical U.S. stores, and HVHC Manufacturing & Distribution, which manufactures more than 4.5 million pairs of glasses a year.

Highmark is the fourth-largest operator of Blue Cross and Blue Shield healthcare plans in the United States. It had consolidated revenue in 2015 of $17.7 billion.

Earlier this year, Highmark sued the U.S. government over money it says it is owed under the Affordable Care Act.

Centerbridge owns a company that would offer cost and revenue synergies in any deal for HVHC. In April, Centerbridge acquired Superior Vision Corp, a Linthicum, Maryland-based provider of vision plans, including comprehensive eye exams, eyeglasses and contact lenses, to companies.

Photo: A man poses with dollars, after buying them at a money exchange in Caracas, February 24, 2015. Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins