WellPoint Health Networks, California's biggest health insurer, said its $1.3 billion acquisition of Maryland-based CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield may be completed by the end of this year.

Maryland legislators have tried to block WellPoint's plan to add CareFirst's 3.1 million customers, amid charges that WellPoint will raise premiums and make health insurance too expensive for the poor. The lawmakers also want WellPoint to pay all cash for CareFirst because the state is to receive part of the proceeds for the nonprofit insurer.

The companies plan to file an amended agreement that addresses issues including Maryland's demand for cash payment, said David C. Colby, WellPoint's chief financial officer, who spoke on a conference call with investors. Regulators from Maryland, Delaware and the District have to approve the transaction and may complete their reviews this year, he said.

Black & Decker Thinks Positive

Black & Decker of Towson said Friday that it will meet or exceed analysts' estimates for fourth-quarter and 2002 earnings.

Analysts are projecting earnings of $1.01 a share for the quarter and $3.19 a share for the year.

The maker of power tools and small appliances said the outlook reflects improved operating profit and percentage sales growth in the low single digits. Black & Decker plans to release results and provide a forecast for 2003 at the end of this month.

Despite the improved outlook, Black & Decker shares closed Friday at $40.01, down $4.20, or 9.5 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange.

MARYLAND

Integrated Health Services, a Maryland-based provider of long-term health care, is seeking approval from a bankruptcy court to extend the company's right to file a reorganization plan and lobby creditors for support. The company wants until April 28 to file a reorganization plan and until June 30 to solicit acceptances from creditors. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Jan. 14 in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Del. Integrated Health and 437 affiliates filed for Chapter 11 protection Feb. 2, 2000, listing assets of $3.6 billion and debts of $4.1 billion.

Magellan Health Services of Columbia said its bank lenders gave it another extension through Jan. 15 to avoid default of its loan agreements. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Magellan said the release of its year-end financial report would be delayed as its accounting department update its analysis of Magellan's finances. The company said its net income for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 would be $16 million to $20 million, compared with net income of $24.6 million in the preceding fiscal year.

VIRGINIA

Amerigroup, a Virginia Beach managed health care company, began trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange, switching from the Nasdaq Stock Market. Company officials said the move was designed to give Amerigroup more exposure to institutional investors. The company went public in a November 2001 stock offering. Its trading symbol is AGP.

THE DISTRICT

MeriStar Hospitality said it will not pay a common share dividend in the fourth quarter, an unusual move for a real estate investment trust. The nation's third-largest hotel real estate investment trust has paid a penny-per-share dividend in each of the previous four quarters. Its operations have been hurt by the prolonged travel slump. The company owns 108 mostly upscale hotels in major cities under a variety of brands.

Danaher completed its acquisition of Willett International for about $110 million, including the assumption of approximately $27 million of debt. Willett, with about $110 million in revenue, makes product identification equipment. Danaher makes mechanics' and automotive tools, as well as tools for monitoring, controlling and testing products.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers