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Health care provider Optum has backed away from its plan to purchase Steward Health Care’s national physicians group, dealing a major setback to Steward’s efforts to bolster its finances after filing for bankruptcy.

Optum, an arm of health insurance giant UnitedHealth, struck a preliminary deal in March to acquire Stewardship Health for an undisclosed sum. Stewardship, a Steward affiliate, includes its primary care doctors and other clinicians in Massachusetts and seven other states, as well as its contracting network for physicians.


But the parties hadn’t finalized an asset purchase agreement, and an Optum representative placed a call to a Massachusetts official this week to say it had decided not to go forward, said a state government official who was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly and asked not to be named.

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