Jun 20, 2017

Humana is holding up the Walgreens-Rite Aid merger

Charles Krupa / AP

Health insurer Humana is trying to kill a subpoena from the Federal Trade Commission tied to the agency's review of Walgreens Boots Alliance's $7 billion acquisition of Rite Aid. But the FTC is demanding the D.C. district court require Humana to cough up the documents by June 26, according to court filings.

Why the urgency: Walgreens proposed buying Rite Aid in October 2015 to create the largest pharmacy chain in the country. The FTC is worried the deal would lead to higher drug prices for consumers because Walgreens would have a lot more negotiating power over insurers and employers. But Walgreens and Rite Aid have already agreed to divest some stores and provided other necessary information to the FTC, and therefore legally can finish the deal by July 7.

What the FTC is still examining: Whether Humana's Medicare prescription drug plans, which feature Walmart as the preferred in-network pharmacy, would be a viable plan while excluding the combined Walgreens-Rite Aid giant. Humana is pushing back against the FTC, arguing the subpoena is irrelevant, costly and "unduly burdensome."

What the FTC is saying: "Time is of the essence. Any delay in the resolution of this petition may force the FTC to assess the competitive effects of the transaction with information that is less than comprehensive or to take extraordinary steps to address the merger after it is complete, at which point the prospect of effective relief is far more difficult." Read the full petition.

Looking ahead: If the deal falls through, Amazon could entertain the idea of acquiring Rite Aid (or other small pharmacy and grocer chains like Kroger) as a way to jump fully into the pharmacy market.

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Sign of the times: A pro-Warren super PAC

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally in Nevada. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of women progressives who back Sen. Elizabeth Warren has formed Persist PAC, a super PAC airing pro-Warren ads starting Wednesday in an effort to boost her performance ahead of Saturday's crucial Nevada caucuses, a spokesman told Axios.

Why it matters: Warren has spoken adamantly against the influence of unlimited spending and dark money in politics. But these supporters have concluded that before Warren can reform the system, she must win under the rules that exist — and that whether she likes it or not, their uncoordinated help may be needed to keep her viable through this weekend's contest and into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Pentagon policy chief resigns amid reported discord with Trump

John Rood. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

John Rood, the Pentagon's top policy official, will resign from his post at the end of the month, CNN first reported and President Trump confirmed.

The state of play: CNN said Rood "was perceived as not embracing some of the changes in policy the White House and senior Pentagon officials wanted," such as peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban and a decision to cut back on military exercises with South Korea as the president courted North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Coronavirus cases rise, as warnings of global pandemic grow

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We may be "at the brink" of a global pandemic, warns a top U.S. public health official, as cases continue to spread despite containment efforts. Meanwhile, the global economy is being affected, including the tech manufacturing industry.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,000 people and infected over 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 136 new deaths since Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health