The blockbuster union between health insurer Cigna Corp. (CI) and pharmacy benefit management company Express Scripts Holding Co. (ESRX) will result in a company that will make it simpler for customers to access affordable healthcare, according to Cigna president and CEO David Cordani on a conference call with analysts on Thursday, March 8.

"We will make it simpler for people to choose the best options for them through a full suite of medical, behavioral, pharmacy, specialty pharmacy and other health engagement services, which will be accessible across a wide array of distribution channels," Cordani said.

Bloomfield, Conn.-based Cigna on Thursday unveiled a deal to buy St. Louis-based Express Scripts in a cash-and-stock transaction valued at about $67 billion, including the assumption of about $15 billion in Express Scripts debt. Cigna said it will pay $48.75 in cash and 0.2434 shares of stock of the combined company per Express Scripts share, a deal that values the equity of Express Scripts at $54 billion.

The companies said they expect the deal to close by year-end.

For Cigna, the Express Scripts deal came after Anthem Inc. (ANTM) in May terminated its $54 billion deal to buy Cigna. That transaction was blocked by a judge in February last year and a federal appeals court upheld that ruling in April.

Express Scripts' shares jumped 11.2% to $81.67 in morning trading on Thursday. The stock has risen 9% so far this year and is up 21% over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, shares of Cigna fell 9.5% to $175.79 on Thursday. The stock is down 13% year-to-date.

The combined entity will have north of one billion customer touch points each year, Cordani said on the call.

Cordani said the merged firm will focus on making healthcare simpler for customers "by harnessing actionable insights and predictive analytics, maximizing adoption of evidence-based care, leveraging medical technology, all working in close coordination with our healthcare partners for the benefit of their patients, our customers."

Express Scripts president and CEO Tim Wentworth said on the call that when his firm was approached by Cigna, "the rationale for combination made a lot of sense."

Jefferies LLC analyst Brian Tanquilut wrote in a note Thursday that it's unlikely that rival bids will emerge for Express Scripts, pointing out that the transaction is valued at a healthy 12.7 times Ebitda.

Tanquilut noted that UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) already has OptumRx, while Anthem inked a contract with CVS Health Corp. (CVS) last year for a new pharmacy benefit manager. Aetna Inc. (AET) , for its part, is being acquired by CVS in a deal announced in December and expected to be completed in the second half of the year.

Tanquilut added that while Express Scripts could potentially provide Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. (WBA) with a strategic boost, "we would note that [Walgreens takes] pride in their independence from retailers, payors, and PBMs."

Tanquilut previously called out Express Scripts as the most logical acquisition target for Amazon Inc. (AMZN) if the e-commerce giant planned to get into the pharmacy retailing market. "[It] appears that movement and speculation on that front has quieted down in recent weeks," he wrote.

-- Martin Baccardax contributed to this article

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