Meridian Health Plan snaps up shuttered NextLevel's members

Illinois’ largest Medicaid managed-care plan is set to acquire NextLevel Health’s members.

Centene’s Meridian Health Plan and the Chicago-based plan led by Dr. Cheryl Whitaker have entered into an agreement, under which Meridian will get NextLevel’s more than 50,000 enrollees—all of whom reside in Cook County, St. Louis-based Centene said in a statement today. As part of the agreement, a subset of NextLevel’s members will get help coordinating their care.

Sources say the deal was expected. Centene provided the initial capital that NextLevel—a minority-owned plan—needed to participate in Illinois’ Medicaid managed care program, and it has continued to provide operational support, according to the statement. Private insurers in 2017 vied for state contracts in a competitive bidding process. Rejected initially, NextLevel appealed and won a four-year contract.

“We are pleased to continue to support NextLevel Health Partners by entering into a care coordination agreement, while expanding our presence in Cook County and working with our members, providers and government partners to achieve better health outcomes at lower costs for the state of Illinois,” Centene CEO Michael Neidorff said in the statement. “We look forward to leveraging our scale and continuing to grow our relationships with these valued partners.”

With about 56,000 enrollees, or nearly 3 percent of the market, NextLevel is one of two plans that serves members only in Cook County. Meridian has about 740,000 members in Illinois, or 34 percent of the market.

The transaction is expected to close in July.

Earlier this month, NextLevel announced it would close. The news came nearly two months after Long Beach, Calif.-based Molina Healthcare passed on a $50 million buyout.

“Insurance is a very capital-intensive business,” Whitaker told Crain’s earlier this month. “COVID-19 has exacerbated the difficulty of Black-owned businesses to access capital.”

A representative for Whitaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the CEO said in Centene’s statement: “We are pleased to transition to providing care coordination to help ensure our members continue receiving quality care that improves the health of communities across Cook County.”