Judge for U.S. lawsuits to stop insurance mergers may drop one case

Thu Aug 4, 2016 2:20pm EDT
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By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The judge assigned to rule whether the U.S. government can block the mega-mergers of health insurers Aetna Inc (AET.N: Quote) and Humana Inc (HUM.N: Quote), and Anthem Inc (ANTM.N: Quote) and Cigna Corp (CI.N: Quote) said on Thursday it would be difficult for him to decide both cases by the end of the year.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed lawsuits in July to block the multibillion-dollar mergers, saying they would reduce competition, raise prices for consumers and stifle innovation if the number of large, national insurers were to fall from five to three.

The assignment of Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to the cases had been seen as favorable for the insurers. He had ruled against antitrust enforcers in 2004 when he allowed Arch Coal Inc ACIIQ.PK to buy Triton Coal.

Aetna and Humana urged Bates this week to hold trials and issue an opinion by the end of 2016.

Bates said in a pre-trial hearing on Thursday that was unlikely to happen.

"That's my determination: that I can't do both (by the end of the year)," he said. "Unless the schedule is put off, I'm sending one of the cases back."

Bates declined to say which would be sent for reassignment.

Christopher Curran, a lawyer representing Anthem, said at the hearing that the failure to get a favorable ruling by year-end would doom the deal because Cigna would not agree to an extension.   Continued...

The office building of health insurer Anthem is seen in Los Angeles, California February 5, 2015. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas