(Bloomberg) -- Anthem Inc. has explored a takeover of its smaller health-insurance rival Cigna Corp., two people with knowledge of the matter said, with the health-insurance industry is poised for a consolidation wave.

Anthem, which has discussed its interest with Cigna, is also weighing a bid for Humana Inc., one of the people said, asking not to be identified discussing private information. In a third possible combination, Humana has also drawn interest from Aetna Inc., another person said.

Insurance companies are looking at mergers to cut costs and keep profits expanding as a surge in enrollment from the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Humana, which is exploring a sale after being approached by Cigna about a potential deal, Bloomberg News reported last month,

Analysts have been working to figure out how a potential deal frenzy will shake out. If Anthem targets Cigna, Aetna is likely to pursue Humana, Chris Rigg, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group, said in a research note.

“Alternatively, if Cigna really doesn’t want to sell, than the obvious defense is to buy Humana at any cost,” he said. “Crazy times.”

Spokesmen for Cigna, Anthem, Aetna and Humana declined to comment.

Shares of Cigna rose 13.7 percent to $156.15 as of 3:35 p.m. in New York, after the Wall Street Journal reported that Cigna had rebuffed an offer for about $175 a share. Anthem and Aetna also gained, while Humana fell about 3 percent.

 

--With assistance from Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis.

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