WellPoint to sell online contact lens business, record a charge

Tue Jan 7, 2014 6:21pm EST

Jan 7 (Reuters) - Health insurer WellPoint Inc said on Tuesday it reached an agreement to sell 1-800 Contacts, its online contact lens business, to private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners in order to focus on its core insurance business.

Financial terms of the deal and a separate transaction to sell a similar eye glasses business, glasses.com, to Luxottica Group were not disclosed.

Wellpoint said it would take a charge related to the sales, an indication that it is selling the businesses for less than it paid for them.

WellPoint's acquisition of the retail contact lens business from a different private equity firm in June 2012 was one of the last big deals by the company's previous chief executive, Angela Brawly, and was met with mostly negative responses from Wall Street analysts at the time.

Wellpoint was widely reported to have paid about $900 million for the business, although the company never disclosed the purchase price.

WellPoint said it expected to record an impairment charge related to the sales of 52 cents to 57 cents per share in the 2013 fourth quarter.

The company said it expects the deals to close in the current quarter.

"As we prepare for the coming changes to the health care system, we are focused on our core growth opportunities across both our commercial and government business segments," Chief Executive Joseph Swedish said in a statement.

"Proceeds from this transaction will support our continued capital deployment strategies," he added.

Excluding the one-time charge, the company maintained its adjusted 2013 forecast for net profit of $8.40 per share.