GOP senators argue DOJ pressured Aetna on ObamaCare

GOP senators argue DOJ pressured Aetna on ObamaCare
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Two Republican senators are accusing the Department of Justice (DOJ) of trying to pressure Aetna to participate in ObamaCare marketplaces through its review of the company’s proposed merger. 

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Sens. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump stokes fears over November election outcome The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Abortion stirs GOP tensions in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ark.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), both strong opponents of the health law, point to questions that the DOJ sent to Aetna on June 30 as part of the department’s anti-trust review of Aetna’s proposed merger with Humana. 

The Justice Department asked Aetna how the termination of the merger would affect its participation in the ObamaCare exchanges. 

“Although it is clear that the exchanges are struggling, it appears that the Department of Justice may have used its leverage in the antitrust review process to encourage participation in the failing exchanges,” Cotton and Sasse wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. 

The “special emphasis” on the exchanges, they add, “may be implying that exchange participation would have a favorable bearing on Department of Justice evaluations.”

The DOJ declined to comment. 

In July, the DOJ announced that it was suing to block the merger on antitrust grounds. 

Aetna then announced earlier this month that it would pull out of ObamaCare markets in 11 of the 15 states it had been participating in, citing financial losses. 

Many Democrats have argued that Aetna pulled out either in retaliation for the DOJ’s moves or as a bargaining chip. 

They point to Aetna’s response to the June 30 questions, in which the company said that it would have to pull back from ObamaCare if the DOJ blocked its merger. Aetna argued it needed the financial benefits of the merger in order to sustain its ObamaCare losses. 

Sasse and Cotton, however, say the pressure went the other way, from the DOJ to Aetna. 

Sasse pointed to some of the struggles the health law has recently had, including the exits of insurers like Aetna, the failures of nonprofit health insurers called co-ops and a lack of competition in some geographic areas. 

"Obamacare’s slow-motion death spiral is real: Big insurers are scrambling to exit Obamacare; more than half of its co-ops have collapsed; and, in more than a third of American counties this year, families were stuck with a monopoly or duopoly on the exchanges,” Sasse said in a statement. “It’s not hard to see why the Obama Administration would want to bully companies into this mess—they owe taxpayers answers.”