UnitedHealth Group Inc. agreed to pay about $5.4 billion in cash to add home-health provider LHC Group Inc. to its wide range of insurance and medical services. 

Under the terms of the proposed deal, UnitedHealth will pay $170 a share for LHC, the companies said in a statement. LHC would become part of UnitedHealth’s Optum Health unit.

As the pandemic kept patients from entering hospitals and clinics, more providers turned to home-based care and telehealth. The approach continues an industry trend of trying to keep patients from using expensive hospital beds, and in many cases aligns with patient preferences of staying at home.

The purchase will “enhance the reach of Optum’s value-based capabilities along the full continuum of care, including primary care, home and community care, virtual care, behavioral health and ambulatory surgery,” said Wyatt Decker, Optum Health’s chief executive officer, in the statement.

“This further solidifies UnitedHealth’s progress toward building a closed, end-to-end continuum of care in a primary-care setting, a strategy we view as positive. The $5.4 billion purchase gives UnitedHealth a post-acute care operator with a footprint to reach almost two-thirds of the U.S. Medicare population,” commented Glen Losev, BI health-care industry analyst

LHC Group has about 30,000 employees who provide more than 12 million annual in-home patient-focused interventions, according to the statement. UnitedHealth rival Humana Inc. last year acquired Kindred at Home.

The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of the year and to be neutral to UnitedHealth’s outlook for adjusted net earnings per share this year, modestly add to earnings in the next, and advancing strongly in subsequent years, according to the statement.

Including LHC’s $767 million in net debt, the transaction value is about $6.15 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Acquisitions have been a key driver of UnitedHealth’s growth. Its last major deal, to acquire health data and payments firm Change Healthcare Inc., is being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice. A trial is scheduled for this summer.

Expanded care delivery services have also boosted revenue and profits at UnitedHealth. More than any of its peers, the company has sought to purchase medical groups and other providers. Executives said late last year that Optum had about 60,000 physicians.

Optum’s businesses, which include a pharmacy benefits manager and data and consulting services, last year made up just over half of the company’s operating profit.

In addition to home care, Lafayette, Louisiana-based LHC operates hospices, long-term acute-care hospitals and physical therapy clinics, according to a company filing. The company operates in 37 states, within reach of 60 percent of American seniors, LHC said.