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.