Breaking: Judge permits UnitedHealth acquisition of Change Healthcare, denies DOJ motion (updated)

US District Court judge dismisses Department of Justice motions to prevent UHG acquisition. The decision on Monday by Judge Carl Nichols of the District of Columbia district court denies DOJ’s action to stop the deal. It also orders the planned divestment of Change’s ClaimsXten claims payment and editing software to an affiliate of TPG Capital for $2.2 billion in cash.

The DOJ and entities such as the American Hospital Association had objected to UHG’s folding Change into OptumInsight as anti-competitive. As both Optum and Change offered competing claims processing software that covers 38 of the top 40 health insurers, UHG would then solely have access to nearly all competitive payers’ information. There were other competitive issues that were dismissed in the judge’s brief opinion. (For insight, see our earlier coverage starting here.) The full opinion, originally expected in October after the bench hearing in August, is under seal due to proprietary, sensitive information and will not be released. (US v UnitedHealth Group, 22-cv-481)

DOJ’s top antitrust official, Jonathan Kanter, said they are “reviewing the opinion closely to evaluate next steps”.  DOJ’s short statement surely sounds like the DOJ will appeal. UHG and Change are moving forward “as quickly as possible”. Stay tuned.  Reuters, Healthcare Dive

Update: As reported in HISTalk from Bloomberg the all-cash deal is $7.8 billion, not the earlier reported $13 billion.

The shoe dropped: DOJ sues to block UnitedHealth Group-Change Healthcare merger. What’s next?

To nearly no one’s surprise, the US Department of Justice did what was reported back on 17 Jan: block UnitedHealth Group’s (UHG) bid to acquire Change Healthcare on anticompetitive grounds. Earlier today, the DOJ issued their statement in a release on the joint civil lawsuit with the attorneys general of New York and Minnesota. (This Editor finds the New York AG participation interesting, as Change is HQ’d in Nashville, Tennessee with UnitedHealth in Minnesota. The usual grounds are state interest and commerce.)

The reasons cited will also not come as any surprise to our Readers, as these objections were raised from the start in that the acquisition would give UHG an unfair advantage against their payer competition and squelch innovation. These are from the DOJ release and the complaint filed today (24 February) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

  • UHG is the US’ largest insurer and also a major controller of health data. Change is a major competitor to UHG/OptumInsight in health care claims technology systems, which was the basis of the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) objections.
  • The acquisition would eliminate a major competitor to UHG in claims processing. Moreover, Change is “United’s only major rival for first-pass claims editing technology — a critical product used to efficiently process health insurance claims and save health insurers billions of dollars each year — and give United a monopoly share in the market.” It would also give UHG the ability to raise competitors’ costs for that technology.
  • Hospital data accounts for about half of all insurance claims. UHG with Change would have effective control of that ‘highway’.
  • Change is also a major EDI clearinghouse, which facilitates the transfer of electronic transactions between payers and physicians, health care professionals, or facilities. UHG would have control of the EDI clearinghouse market.
  • UHG would be able to view competitors’ claims data and other competitively sensitive information through Change. “United would be able to use its rivals’ information to gain an unfair advantage and harm competition in health insurance markets.”

The plaintiffs–DOJ, New York, and Minnesota–conclude with a request of the court to 1) enjoin (stop) the acquisition and 2) award restitution by UHG and Change for costs incurred in bringing this action.

Consider this acquisition one for the books–the one embossed ‘Nice Try, But No Dice’. 

So what’s next? Here’s your Editor’s speculation.

Change is one of the ‘shaggiest’ independent companies in healthcare, in so many businesses (many acquired) that it’s hard to understand exactly what they stand for. It has extensive businesses not only in the areas above that will nix the UHG buy, but also in imaging, data analytics, clinical decision making, revenue cycle management, provider network optimization and related solutions, pharmacy benefits, patient experience in billing and call centers, funding healthcare….and that’s just the surface of a giant list. From the outside, it’s hard to see how all these parts coalesce.

In the industry, Change was long rumored to be for sale. Recently, it’s become unprofitable. It closed its FY 2021 (ending 31 Mar 2021) with a $13.1 million loss and through Q3 FY 2022 with a $24.5 million loss.

At the end of this, Change may be better advised to sell off some of its businesses, retrench, and refocus on its most cohesive and profitable areas. 

News roundup: Walgreens Boots-Microsoft, TytoCare, CVS-Aetna moves along, Care Innovations exits Louisville

Walgreens Boots finally does something. Their teaming with Microsoft to migrate their IT infrastructure to the Azure platform will eventually lead to “more personalized care experiences from preventative self-care to chronic disease management. WBA will leverage the cloud for wellness and lifestyle management programs.” It was important enough to both companies to have a photo op with twin CEOs: Walgreens Boots’ Stefano Pessina and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. The ‘consumerization of healthcare’ and ‘transforming healthcare delivery’ phrases liberally sprinkled throughout the article and the press release are today’s prevalent clichés, as ‘synergy’ was the buzzword of say, 1999. Healthcare IT News, CNBC  In the long run, this IT overhaul may actually mean more to their customers than, say, the Amazon-JP Morgan-Berkshire Hathaway hydra.

A vote of confidence in diagnostic telehealth pioneered by young Israeli company TytoCare. They added $9 million to their Series C from investors including Sanford Health, Itochu and Shenzhen Capital Group (and its affiliates). This adds to last year’s round led by Ping An Global Voyager Fund for a total Series C of $33.5 million. TechCrunch. TytoCare also was named one of Wired’s Best of CES (CBS TV video, at 1:35) and earlier this month announced the integration of Health Navigator’s symptom checker into their system.

The judge says ‘No Delay For You’! In the CVS-Aetna hearing, Federal Judge Richard Leon refused to give the Department of Justice any more time to submit comments in the CVS Health and Aetna merger case. The deadline remains 15 February despite the government shutdown furloughing much of the antitrust division. Judge Leon is reviewing the decree under the Tunney Act requirement that the merger meet the public interest. Healthcare Finance

Care Innovations ankles Louisville. A modest and mainly paywalled item in Louisville Business First may point to something larger at Care Innovations. After two years of operation and a much-touted expansion to one of Louisville’s better addresses, the telehealth/RPM company has quietly vacated its 7,200 square foot space at Brown & Williamson Tower and pulled its operations from the city. Reporters from the publication were unable to obtain a statement from Care Innovations, which is now in Folsom, California, closer to majority owner Intel. At the time of their Louisville expansion in April 2017 (still on their website), Care Innovations received a $500,000 KBI tax incentive to create 24 high-paying jobs, which now are departed. It is ironic as Louisville is a health hub dominated by insurer Humana but has successfully campaigned for health tech. Last July [TTA 17 July], CI sold its Validation Institute and their VA win disappeared from their website. Of late, there has been no news from the one-time Intel-GE partnership.

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.