Doctors group urges DOJ to block insurer mergers

The country’s leading doctors group is urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to block two proposed mergers between health insurance companies, arguing they would harm patients and reduce competition. 

{mosads}The American Medical Association (AMA) made the argument in a letter to the DOJ on Wednesday raising objections to Aetna’s acquisition of Humana and Anthem’s acquisition of Cigna. 

If the mergers meet DOJ antitrust approval, the number of major national health insurance players would decline from five to three. 

The AMA argues that the reduced competition among insurers would allow the insurance companies to pay doctors less. It says this would not just be bad for doctors, but also for patients. 

“The mergers would enable the health insurers to control physician payment rates in a manner that could harm the quality of healthcare delivered to consumers,” the letter states. 

It says doctors could be forced to spend less time with their patients in a bid to make up the lost money or be unable to invest in new technologies that help them care for patients. 

The AMA also says the reduced competition would lead to higher premiums and less choice of doctors for consumers. 

The AMA’s letter is the latest move in a fight that has also resonated in the political realm. 

Hillary Clinton, who has been critical of the healthcare industry, last month said she had “serious concerns” about the mergers. 

“I am very skeptical of the claim that consumers will benefit from them because the evidence from careful studies shows that too often the companies end up pocketing profits rather than passing savings to consumers,” Clinton said in a statement. 

Republicans have also seized on the proposed mergers, but for a very different reason. They argue that the burden of ObamaCare is forcing the industry on the defense.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the mergers are “the inevitable result of Obamacare’s push toward consolidation as doctors, hospitals, and insurers merge in response to an ever-growing government.”

In addition to the AMA, the American Hospital Association has also raised objections to the mergers, warning that it could reduce choices in healthcare providers and raise costs for consumers.

Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurer trade group, hit back against the AMA and the data it used to show a loss of competition from the mergers.

“The AMA’s 17-page press release on health plan mergers will have no impact on the DOJ’s review of these transactions,” she said in a statement. “Their flawed data set has consistently been rebuked by leading economists and is a far cry from the reality of today’s marketplace.”

AHIP argues that insurers are already facing a cap on profits and administrative expenses under ObamaCare and that the real problem is high prices from hospitals and drug companies.

This story was updated at 4:04 p.m.


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