Jun 14, 2019

What can happen with the CVS-Aetna merger

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.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

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Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Situational awareness

Warren Buffett. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Catch up on today's biggest news:

  1. Warren Buffett releases annual letter, reassures investors about future of Berkshire Hathaway
  2. Greyhound bars immigration sweeps
  3. U.S. military officially stops offensive operations in Afghanistan
  4. America's future looks a lot like Nevada
  5. Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins