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CVS Health bought Aetna in a deal worth $78 billion. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Federal judge Richard Leon is raising antitrust concerns about CVS Health's $78 billion takeover of Aetna, but legal experts say he simply doesn't have authority to nix the deal.

Why it matters: The biggest companies in health care keep getting bigger, and critics fear anticompetitive effects — but nothing has actually slowed the industry's rapid consolidation.

Driving the news: A New York Post article claimed Leon "appears to be nearing a surprise move to block" the CVS-Aetna deal. But that isn't quite accurate.

  • "[Leon] can't stop the deal because it's already happened," said Joe Krauss, a former antitrust attorney at the Federal Trade Commission now at Hogan Lovells.

Details: CVS and Aetna completed their transaction last November. To satisfy antitrust concerns, the Department of Justice required Aetna to sell its Medicare prescription drug plans.

Where it stands: Leon can either approve that settlement, or "he can say the remedy was insufficient," said Andrea Agathoklis Murino, a former DOJ antitrust attorney now at Goodwin Procter. But he can't undo the merger.

  • If Leon rejects the settlement, DOJ would likely appeal or negotiate a new remedy with CVS and Aetna.
  • DOJ also could order CVS and Aetna to unwind their merger, but that process is messy, and it's never happened under the type of proceedings happening here.

Between the lines: The settlement — making Aetna sell its Medicare drug plans — wouldn't materially change the market share for those policies, nor does it address concerns of combining health insurance and drug benefits.

  • "This is a highly consolidated market," said Mike Landis, litigation director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which opposed the merger. "We hope DOJ will see the light."

Go deeper: Read the transcripts of this month's CVS-Aetna proceedings.

Go deeper

7 mins ago - World

U.K. prosecutors charge third person in poisoning of former Russian spy

Emergency services members in biohazard encapsulated suits encasing the poisoning scene in a tent in Salisbury, England, in March 2018. Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

U.K. prosecutors said they had enough evidence to charge Denis Sergeev, a member of the Russian military intelligence service, in the 2018 Salisbury nerve agent attack against a former Russian spy, according to AP.

Why it matters: Sergeev is the third person to face charges for the nerve agent attack against Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, both of whom survived.

1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: More boycotts coming for Facebook

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Leaders of the Stop Hate For Profit social media boycott group are discussing whether to organize another campaign against Facebook in light of an explosive investigative series from the Wall Street Journal, Common Sense CEO Jim Steyer tells Axios.

The intrigue: Sources tell Axios that another group, separate from the Stop Hate For Profit organization, is expected to launch its own ad boycott campaign this week.

Democrats' dwindling 2022 map

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats are trying to unseat only about half as many Republican House members next year as they did in 2020, trimming their target list from 39 to 21.

Why it matters: The narrowing map — which reflects where Democrats see their best chance of flipping seats — is the latest datapoint showing the challenging political landscape the party faces in the crucial 2022 midterms.