The U.S. Department of Justice along with the Minnesota and New York Attorneys General (collectively “Justice Department”) are suing to stop UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (“United”) from acquiring Change Healthcare Inc. (“Change”) on February 24, 2022 in an announced $13 billion transaction as prohibited by antitrust laws. The suit is the latest in a series of Justice Department suits that seek to prevent continued consolidation of the health industry giants following decades of industry consolidation.
United, headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota, is an integrated health care enterprise that includes, among other subsidiaries, UnitedHealthcare, the largest health insurer in the United States; Optum Health, a large network of health care providers located throughout the country; OptumRx, a large pharmacy benefit manager; and OptumInsight, a health care technology business. United’s revenues were $288 billion in 2021.
Change Healthcare Inc. headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, is a leading independent health care technology company providing health care analytics, software, services and data to health care providers, health insurers and other software and services firms in the health care industry. Today, Change markets itself as a partner to a wide variety of other health care ecosystem organizations including United’s major health insurance competitors as providing vital software and services need for innovation and problem solving. These services include electronic data interchange (EDI) clearinghouse services, which transmit claims and payment information between insurers and providers, and first-pass claims editing solutions, which review claims under the health insurer’s policies and relevant treatment protocols. Change’s revenues were $3.4 billion in 2021.
In the civil antitrust complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on February 24, 2022, the Justice Department charges United’s acquisition of this neutral player would allow United to tilt the playing field in its favor, harming current competition and allowing United to control and distort the course of innovation in this industry for the foreseeable future.
Among other things, the Justice Department alleges allowing United to eliminate a significant independent and innovative competitor firm by acquiring Change will undermine competition in the commercial health insurance market, stifle innovation in the employer health insurance markets and suppress competition in the market for a vital technology used by health insurers to process health insurance claims and reduce health care costs by giving United control of a critical data highway through which about half of all Americans’ health insurance claims pass each year.
As alleged in the complaint, the proposed transaction would give United, a massive company that owns the largest health insurer in the United States, access to a vast amount of its rival health insurers’ competitively sensitive information. Post-acquisition, United would be able to use its rivals’ information to gain an unfair advantage and harm competition in health insurance markets. The Justice Department also claims the proposed transaction would eliminate United’s only major rival for first-pass claims editing technology — a critical product used to efficiently process health insurance claims and save health insurers billions of dollars each year — and give United a monopoly share in the market.
A Justice Department press release about the lawsuit quotes Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Doha Mekki of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division as saying, “Unless the deal is blocked, United stands to see and potentially use its health insurance rivals’ competitively sensitive information for its own business purposes and control these competitors’ access to innovations in vital health care technology. The department’s lawsuit makes clear that we will not hesitate to challenge transactions that harm competition by placing so much control of data and innovation in the hands of a single firm.”
The suit is the latest in a series of civil antitrust lawsuits challenging proposed mergers or acquisitions of between health insurance industry giants as anticompetitive in recent years. Stay tuned for more details.
We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, past chair of the the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and managed care industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.
Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.
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