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Insurers get into care, but is it good for you?

In the not-too-distant future, your health insurance, your prescription drugs and some of your treatment may come from the same company.

Insurers are dropping billions of dollars on acquisitions and expansions in order to get more involved in customer health. They say this push can help cut costs and improve care, in part by keeping the sickest patients healthy and out of expensive hospitals.

That's a huge potential benefit for employers and other customers stressed by rising costs. But is this good for your health? 

That question worries some health care insiders who wonder if the patient's best interest  and not profits  will remain the focus as insurers dive deeper into care. 

"The fights about price and cost are only going to get worse. Now you've got more integrated and powerful private insurers ... coming up with the answer," said medical ethicist Arthur Caplan. 

The insurer Cigna said Thursday it will spend $52 billion to buy Express Scripts, which administers prescription benefits for about 80 million people.

Late last year, CVS Health also announced a roughly $69 billion deal to buy another insurer, Aetna. Those companies plan to convert drugstores into health care hotspots that people can turn to for a variety of needs in between doctor visits.

Other insurance companies, including Humana and UnitedHealth Group, also are making deals to expand their role in managing or providing care 

The concept isn't new. Many people already have coverage through health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, where insurers either employ doctors or contract with them to manage care. 

But major insurers are buying into the idea because the usual ways they control costs  by negotiating rates with hospitals or cutting their own expenses  have a limited impact, said Standard & Poor's analyst Deep Banerjee. He added that delving into care is the most efficient way for insurers to manage costs. 

If insurers don't find a better way to control costs, Amazon might. The online giant announced earlier this year that it will collaborate with billionaire Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase to create a company aimed at giving employees high-quality, affordable care. The companies have yet to announce details.

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