Senate Judiciary Republican lauds FTC approval of Medco merger

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel on Monday applauded the Federal Trade Commission's approval of the merger between pharmacy benefit managers Medco Health Solutions and Express Scripts.

More than 80 lawmakers of both parties had raised concerns that the merger would lead to fewer choices for patients. Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeTrouble draining the swamp? Try returning power to the states Congress must act to protect data privacy before courts make surveillance even easier Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare MORE (R-Utah), however, said antitrust regulators made the right choice.

"Our antitrust laws serve important purposes, but federal regulators should not interfere with productive market forces absent evidence demonstrating a significant threat to consumer welfare," Lee said in a statement. "Based on the evidence presented at our [Dec. 6] Antitrust Subcommittee hearing, I am convinced that although significant in size this merger does not pose a threat to robust competition. 

"I am pleased that the FTC’s extensive investigation corroborated my view and demonstrated that this transaction is unlikely to have adverse affects on the PBM and specialty drug markets or lead to the exercise of monopsony power over retail pharmacies, and that the merger may well lead to lower prices for PBM services."

The panel's chairman, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), pledged that his subcommittee would continue to monitor the industry to ensure that consumers aren't harmed by the merger. Kohl shared his concerns about the merger with FTC Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz in a six-page letter two months ago.

"We are confident that the FTC thoroughly and carefully reviewed the competitive impact of the merger between Express Scripts and Medco," Kohl said in a statement. "We believe that maintaining competition in this industry is essential to keeping drug prices down and ensuring that consumer’s prescription drug benefits are affordable.

"We are also aware of the vital role of local, community pharmacists in serving consumers, and will continue to monitor this industry to ensure that consumers continue to have access to their local pharmacists to serve their prescription drug needs. We expect the FTC to carefully monitor the market to ensure that consumers are not harmed by loss of community pharmacies."

The FTC approved the merger by a 3-1 vote Monday morning.

Prescription drug retailers filed suit in federal court last week to prevent the merger and have asked for an injunction to prevent the merger from going through until the court rules.

This post was updated at 3:30 p.m. with comment from Sen. Herb Kohl