DOJ has walked away from trying to stop the already-closed UHG-Change Healthcare merger. The US Department of Justice, which had appealed in November the District Court of DC approval in late September of UnitedHealth Group’s acquisition of Change Healthcare, on antitrust grounds, decided ‘enough egg on face’ and dropped its appeals court filings on 21 March. DOJ did not respond to Reuters’ report. Change is being integrated into OptumInsight and will be kept separate from the health plans. The DC District Court ruling found that DOJ did not conclusively prove its allegations of antitrust and loss of competition in services to hospitals and other providers. Statements from UHG’s competitors such as Cigna, Aetna, and Elevance (Anthem) that the acquisition would not lead them to ‘stifle innovation’ also weakened the DOJ’s case. Had the appeal been successful, it would have forced separation of Change Healthcare’s businesses, which are being quickly integrated into OptumInsight. Healthcare Dive, Becker’s. Also TTA 4 Oct and 22 Nov 22.
Elsewhere in DC, it’s hunting season for the FTC, and its sights are fixed on Big Game called Amazon. POLITICO confirmed the speculation (or gave advance notice) [TTA 3 Mar], that FTC was building a multi-layered case beyond the Amazon-One Medical buy and warnings about failing to maintain consumer privacy [TTA 3 Mar] to include multiple practices. The POLITICO report indicates that there are at least six ongoing investigations by the FTC’s competition and consumer protection teams, with three apparently near the boiling point of action:
- Blocking the acquisition of iRobot, famous for its Roomba robot vacuums. Amazon’s $1.7 billion acquisition has stalled with FTC rumoring action and Amazon apparently shutting down any further information. It does not have UK or EU approvals, which gives the FTC some more time to build a case. iRobot is the largest maker of robot vacuums. An acquisition would be expected to shut out competitive manufacturers marketing on Amazon such as Samsung. Their report indicates that FTC’s staff attorneys are leaning toward suing to stop the deal. Court action is expected in the next few months or sooner.
- Privacy investigations involving data security from their Ring camera/security system business and the Alexa voice assistant. The Alexa investigation also involves potential violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. iRobot, Ring, and Alexa also tie into another FTC concern that Amazon is cornering the market on connected home devices.
- Retail operations. These possibly could be around bundling services through the Prime subscription business and how competitor data is used on the Amazon platform to ‘outmuscle’ them. There is also a deceptive advertising probe around the use of the “Amazon Choice” label for certain products, including pay-to-play practices.
There is also scrutiny of how Prime and other Amazon services entice customers in with offers for expensive subscriptions, then make it extremely difficult or opaque to unsubscribe. This deceptive practice is called a “dark pattern”. Stay tuned.
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