Judge schedules December trial for DOJ's challenge to Aetna-Humana merger

Aetna may have to pay $1 billion if merger is delayed into 2017

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia announced Wednesday that the trail over the Department of Justice's (DOJ) challenge to Aetna's proposed merger with Humana will begin in December.

U.S. District Judge John Bates scheduled the case's trial to begin Dec. 5 and allotted 13 days for the trial's proceedings. A decision in the case is expected in mid-January 2017.

Background

DOJ last month filed lawsuits challenging proposed mergers between Aetna and Humana, as well as Anthem and Cigna.

If both deals are allowed to close, the nation's five largest health insurers would be consolidated into three companies.

The department in its lawsuit against the proposed Aetna-Humana deal expressed concern that it could negatively affect the Medicare Advantage (MA) and Affordable Care Act exchange markets.

Aetna and Humana had requested that the trial begin in the next few months, given that the insurers' merger agreement expires at the end of 2016. However, DOJ asked for the trial dates to be scheduled for February 2017, arguing it would be "unworkable" to schedule the trials for an earlier time because of the case's complexity.

Trial date seen as a compromise

During a scheduling hearing for the Aetna-Humana case held Wednesday, Aetna said it could owe Humana $1 billion if their deal is not closed by the end of the year. However, DOJ argued the insurers could adjust their set merger deadline.

AMA to DOJ: Block the big insurer mergers, or doctors will pay the price

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bates initially seemed sympathetic to the insurer's claims and said he was leaning toward scheduling a November trial date so the case could be settled before the end of the year. However, Bates after considering DOJ's arguments about the complexity of the case scheduled the December date as a compromise between the two requests (Teichert, Modern Healthcare, 8/10; Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 8/10).

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