Off to DC court we go: Anthem-Cigna, Aetna-Humana merger trials (US)

It seems like a year ago that the US Department of Justice sued to stop the merger of these healthcare payer giants on antitrust grounds, but it was only July! On the face of it, it would reduce the Big 5 Payers to the Big 3, with the $48 bn Anthem-Cigna matchup besting UnitedHealthcare for the #1 pole position with 45 million covered persons. DOJ also cited reduction of benefits, raising premiums, cutting payments to doctors and reducing the quality of service. 11 states, including New York, California and Connecticut, plus the District of Columbia, are backing the DOJ.

The Anthem – Cigna trial started today in US Federal Court in Washington DC. It is a two-phase hearing: the first on Anthem – Cigna’s merger’s effect on national employers, the second starting 12 Dec on local markets.

So much has happened since our July report, none of it good. ACA exchange plans have hiked benefits up well into the double digit increases by state due to lack of competition: CO-OP insurers couldn’t defy actuarial gravity for long and went out of business; commercial insurers lost too much money and bailed from multiple states (KFF). The effect on Medicare Advantage programs, which are judged on the county-state level, will be most significant with a combined Aetna-Humana having 40-50 percent market share in many counties. This triggers divestiture in current regulations.

These mergers rarely go to court after a DOJ action, so all eyes are on DC. An added fillip is that many expected the lawsuit to be the final kibosh on a Anthem-Cigna deal where reports of conflicts on future management and governance of a single entity were frequent. It wasn’t–and DOJ reportedly will be using documentation on the governance clash to demonstrate why it should not take place.

The $38 bn Aetna – Humana court date is 5 Dec, also in Washington, before a different judge.  All want a decision before year’s end so that (if positive) they can proceed with state regulatory approvals before deal expiration on 30 April 2017.

Bloomberg Big Law Business, USA Today  Also don’t assume this has much to do with a Donald J. Trump administration being ‘typical Republican=friendlier to Big Mergers’, because the president-elect has been hostile to other high profile ones, notably AT&T/TimeWarner, and this will be over before a new Attorney General is confirmed.

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