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Highmark sells a piece of its vision business

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 5:45 p.m.

Highmark Inc. is selling a piece of its vision business as the region's dominant insurer focuses on expanding its national chain of eyewear stores and builds capital that could used for acquisitions.

HVHC Inc., Highmark's for-profit vision subsidiary, said Thursday that it reached a deal to sell its Viva International unit to Marcolin SpA, an Italian eyeglasses company. The purchase price for the unit, which licenses and markets branded eyewear, was not disclosed.

“As we looked at our strategy, (Viva International) wasn't as core to us, and it was also a business that we felt could grow and develop, but it needed more investment,” David Holmberg, HVHC's CEO, said on a conference call with reporters.

HVHC will continue to operate its retail, manufacturing and vision insurance units but will license branded eyeglasses from Marcolin. The vision business, as well as Highmark's other for-profit subsidiaries in dental insurance and stop-loss insurance, are key providers of profit to Highmark's overall business.

The Downtown-based insurer last year recorded net income of $246.5 million, not counting its acquisition of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware. Net income from its three for-profit subsidiaries totaled $193.6 million.

Its Visionworks chain of stores is the nation's second-largest, and its vision insurance business, Davis Vision, is the third-largest vision insurance in the country, Holmberg said.

HVHC has previously said that it would spend $65 million to more than double the number of Visionworks it owns across the country. It has 600 stores now and plans to have 1,225 by the end of 2018.

The retail vision business is predicted to grow strongly in coming years as aging baby boomers require more vision care.

With the sale of Viva, the company may increase that number, either through building its own stores or by purchasing existing retail chains, Holmberg said.

“If there are ways to go into the marketplace all at once through acquisition this positions us to do that as well,” he said.

The deal is expected to close in the next several months.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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