Big names in insurance join battle for Prime

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PRIME Health, one of the most aggressive private health insurers, is close to being sold by Municipal Mutual.

The buyer will be a big-name insurer, entering the private health market for the first time.

The sale should be completed by the end of June. Prime will not reveal the identity of the prospective purchaser. There is speculation, however, that the health insurer would be an ideal match for a life company, and Standard Life and Prudential have been tipped as potential suitors.

Prime is the fifth-largest health insurer. Its purchase by a big insurance company will put even more pressure on Bupa, PPP, WPA and Norwich Union, the big-four players in an increasingly overcrowded market.

Prime specialises in medical insurance to individuals and small companies. In a short time, it has become a sizeable force in the individual market. It made a pounds 450,000 profit in 1991/2 and had in-force premiums of pounds 44m. The in-force premiums for 1992/3 are about pounds 54m, but the profit figure is not available.

John Young, executive manager, confirmed that a sale was pending and that three big household names were looking at the company. He is confident a sale will be completed shortly.

Prime was founded in 1987 by Peter Dalby, who sold it to the Municipal Insurance Group. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Municipal Mutual.

A spokesman for Municipal Mutual said Prime was still operating normally, taking in new business and paying out claims. It was being marketed for sale, he said, but he could not comment further.