NU Online News Service, Mar. 8, 1:35 p.m. –UICI, Dallas, recently announced plans to expand sales of long-term care insurance.

Now the publicly traded specialty health insurance and specialty finance company says it is also getting into the business of selling “limited benefit” plans to entry-level, hourly employees.

UICI has acquired STAR Human Resources Group Inc. and STAR Administrative Services Inc., Phoenix, sister companies founded in 1989 that develop and market the STARBRIDGE health insurance programs, which offer small amounts of medical insurance for rates of a few dollars per month.

UICI is paying $25 million up front , and it has agreed to pay $15 million more if the STAR companies meet its performance expectations.

Many big, national companies have fled from the major medical market, but UICI Chief Executive Gregory Mutz says he believes his company can do well in the limited-benefit niche.

“We think the low-income market has a great interest in health insurance,” Mutz says. “We think there’s a lot of demand.”

The STAR companies say they provide coverage for 180,000 U.S. workers.

Charles Shoumaker, STAR’s founder and majority shareholder, says he sold to UICI in part because he believes UICI is committed to the limited-benefit market.

One typical STARBRIDGE plan, which is marketed through the Web site of the Texas Restaurant Association, Austin, Texas, offers $1,000 in basic medical coverage, $10,000 in coverage for accidental injuries and prescription discount cards for a payment of a few dollars per worker per month.

The STAR policies will now be issued by The MEGA Life and Health Insurance Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UICI, UICI says.

Timothy Cook, who was STAR’s executive vice president, will now be president of a new STAR division at MEGA.

UICI is not actively pursuing any additional acquisitions, but “we continue to look” for appropriate deals, Mutz says.