Tenet Healthcare Corp. agreed to buy hospital operator Vanguard Health Systems Inc. for about $1.8 billion in cash to grow in new markets as the U.S. health-care overhaul promises to expand insurance coverage to more Americans starting next year.

Tenet, the third-biggest publicly traded U.S. hospital chain, will pay $21 a share, the companies said today in a statement. That’s 70 percent above the $12.37 closing price on June 21 for Nashville, Tennessee-based Vanguard Health. Tenet also will assume $2.5 billion of debt, the companies said.

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