NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of Medicaid plan operators Centene (CNC) and WellCare (WCG) are declining after Citigroup wrote that Ascension Health is not buying a publicly traded Medicaid health plan, as was previously rumored. Ascension Health is a nonprofit healthcare provider. Citigroup cut its rating on Centene to Sell from Neutral in a note to investors earlier today.
WHAT'S NEW: Ascension Health is not buying a publicly traded Medicaid plan, as some had speculated last week, Citigroup analyst Carl McDonald stated. Last week Ascension's CEO reportedly said that it was in talks to acquire an unnamed insurance company that operates in 18 states, leading research firm Leerink to speculate that Ascension was likely looking to buy WellCare or that it may be interested in buying Centene. However, McDonald rejected both scenarios, as he reported that Ascension recently wrote that the purchase price of the insurer it was poised to buy would not be material. Meanwhile, after rising 6% over the last week, Centene's stock doesn't seem to be adequately reflecting the risk to the company's earnings over the near-term, contended McDonald. The cost of Gilead's (GILD) Sovaldi hepatitis C drug, along with the addition of new markets with low profit margins, are likely to weigh on Centene's earnings, the analyst wrote. The long-term outlook for Medicaid remains positive, but Centene's stock is likely to reach a more favorable entry point in the future, according to McDonald, who has a $65 price target on the stock.
PRICE ACTION: In early trading, Centene fell over 4% to $72.52 and WellCare gave back 1.6% to $76.08.
Reporting by Larry Ramer.