Walmart Inc. is in preliminary talks to buy insurer Humana Inc., according to people familiar with the matter, a deal that would mark a dramatic shift for the retail behemoth and the latest in a recent flurry of big deals in health-care services.
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It wasn't clear what terms the companies may be discussing, and there is no guarantee they will strike a deal. If they do, the deal would be big: Humana currently has a market value of about $37 billion.
It would be Walmart's largest deal by far, eclipsing its 1999 acquisition of the U.K.'s Asda Group PLC for $10.8 billion. Walmart, which in addition to being the world's biggest retailer is also a big drugstore operator, has a market value of about $260 billion.
The two companies are discussing a range of options, including an acquisition, one of the people familiar said.
Should there be a deal -- and should regulators and shareholders bless it -- it would transform Walmart overnight into one of the nation's largest health insurers. It would immerse the company in a complicated industry, one that continues to evolve eight years after the Affordable Care Act was enacted and as Washington remains deeply divided over health-care policy.
The talks come as health-service providers are rapidly pairing off and retailers -- particularly pharmacy chains -- are looking to diversify and bulk up in the face of the competitive threat from e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc.