Aetna, Anthem vow to take merger fight to court

Two of the nation’s largest health insurers are vowing to fight the Obama administration in court to win approval for multi-billion dollar mergers that would reshape the national marketplace.

The Department of Justice filed lawsuits Thursday to block both both Anthem’s $54 billion takeover of Cigna and Aetna’s $37 billion bid to buy Humana.

In sharply worded statements on Thursday, officials from both Aetna and Anthem said they would fight in court to defend their planned mergers.  

Aetna said it would “vigorously” defend its takeover bid of Humana, arguing that a combined company “offers tremendous value to consumers.”

Anthem, which has sought to acquire Cigna, said it is “fully committed to challenging the DOJ’s decision in court.”

The company also made clear that it would be “receptive to any efforts to reach a settlement.” Experts say that could involve selling off small pieces of the company that raised concerns about competition.

In a press briefing Thursday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch rejected the efforts already underway by the companies to address antitrust concerns by shedding parts of their business.    

“We view them as inadequate, incomplete,” she said. She repeatedly warned the proposed mergers would “drastically” reduce competition by reducing the nation’s five largest insurers to three. And she called the acquisition attempts as “unprecedented in their scope and in their scale.”  

On the Aetna-Humana merger, Justice Department officials specifically raised concerns about what would be a massive share of Medicare Advantage plans.

Aetna strongly rebutted the government’s claims that Medicare Advantage care would suffer, arguing that its options would be cheaper and contain more higher-rated plans.

The company also pointed out that insurance regulators in 18 of 20 states that have reviewed their proposal have approved it.

Officials also said both mergers would threaten competition for hundreds of thousands of people who purchase their insurance through the ObamaCare exchanges.   

Patient and doctor groups, many of which have vocally decried the mergers, cheered the Justice Department’s lawsuits on Thursday.

The powerful American Medical Association said the decision to go after the “few corporate Goliaths with unprecedented market power” was a crucial step to preserve care.   

If the mergers go through, the AMA warned that the big insurers would “develop strangleholds on local markets” and “exert control over the delivery of health care.”