Top Local Business Stories of the Week


HEALTH CARE

With late surge, Texas Obamacare enrollment nearly matches 2016: Enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act soared in the final days before the federal sign-up deadline, bringing the total numbers to within a few percentage points of last year, when the enrollment window was twice as long.

In Texas, more than 550,000 people enrolled between Dec. 10 and Dec. 15, nearly doubling the total of enrollees over the previous six weeks combined, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which released the figures this past week.

A total of 1.13 million Texans signed up for insurance on the federal exchange during this year’s 45-day period, coming in 8 percent below last year’s total of about 1.23 million, when open enrollment lasted three months.

The numbers still could climb, because people affected by this year’s hurricanes have been given extra time to sign up. In addition, the numbers don’t include people who were in the process of enrolling before the deadline and had to leave call-back numbers because of high volume.

Nationally, total enrollment this year topped 8.8 million people, 4 percent below last year’s total of about 9.2 million during the longer enrollment window. More than 4.1 million people signed up in the final week this year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“The fact that people still signed up, and really at a higher rate than in previous years, shows people want insurance and that (the Affordable Care Act) is their most viable way to get it,” said Kay Ghahremani, chief executive of the Texas Association of Community Health Plans. “It is a testament to the fact that people want to have (health) insurance.”

Open enrollment for 2018 insurance under the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare — began Nov. 1 and ran through Dec. 15.

The figures released last week don’t include people signing up in states that operate their own exchanges and that in many cases have longer open enrollment windows.

SNACK DEAL

Austin’s Amplify Snack Brands being sold to Hershey for $1.6 billion: Amplify Snack Brands, an Austin company best known for its SkinnyPop popcorn, is being sold to The Hershey Co. in a $1.6 billion deal that the maker of chocolate Kisses and candy bars is billing as its largest acquisition ever as it launches a major push into the market for salty snacks.

Under terms of the transaction, which is expected to close in the first quarter of next year, Pennsylvania-based Hershey will pay $12 a share in cash for Amplify, or $921 million, and also take on about $600 million in Amplify’s debt.

The snack sector has been consolidating as global food manufacturers try to jump-start growth at a time when health-conscious consumers have become picky about what they eat but also eat more on the go.

Amplify’s products include Paqui tortilla chips, Tyrrell’s potato chips and Oatmega protein bars — and it touts them as ideal for guilt-free consumption because of the quality, natural ingredients that it uses. Amplify’s SkinnyPop popcorn brand has about 17.5 percent of the market for ready-to-eat popcorn, making it the No. 2 player in a snack category that has been growing 13 percent annually since 2013.

Hershey CEO Michele Buck called Amplify “a high-growth snack food company” and said Monday that the deal marks “an important step in our journey to becoming an innovative snacking powerhouse.”

She said Amplify will be Hershey’s “largest acquisition to date” and its “first acquisition of scale in the the savory snacking category.”

Amplify, which went public in August 2015, has 550 full-time employees — about 100 of whom work in Austin. It was founded in Austin in 2014 and is based here but has operations in the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia, growing mainly through acquisitions in the so-called “better-for-you” snacking space.

Boston-based private equity firm TA Associates, which bought SkinnyPop popcorn in 2014 and was the majority owner of Amplify at the time of its 2015 IPO, holds slightly more than 43 percent of the company’s outstanding common shares, according to the annual report, while Amplify’s executive officers and directors own about 14 percent.

“Directors, executive officers and significant stockholders” collectively owning 57 percent of Amplify’s common shares have already agreed to sell them to Hershey under the deal, Amplify said in a securities filing.



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