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Ed Reinke / AP

Aetna's deal for Humana went down in flames, and the Anthem-Cigna merger now has even grimmer prospects of getting approved. But that doesn't mean there won't be any more deals among the largest health insurance companies.

If anything, the industry would reset to where it was back in early 2015 — when Anthem and Cigna both tried to acquire Humana before Aetna. Humana remains a prized asset, considering the $55 billion company has roughly 3.2 million Medicare Advantage enrollees and another 5 million seniors enrolled in Medicare prescription drug plans.

What to look for: Assuming Aetna and Humana either don't bother with or lose an appeal of the judge's ruling, Humana will be back on the market. If the Anthem-Cigna deal also falls through, as antitrust experts predict, both companies could turn their attention to bidding for Humana again. Anthem and Cigna would likely have an easier time buying out Humana because, unlike Aetna, they have smaller Medicare Advantage footprints and less overlap. Many analysts and consultants believe Medicare Advantage is the safest program to be in right now.

"We believe that both (Anthem) and (Cigna) view Medicare as attractive — and both could look to bolster their presence," Christine Arnold, an analyst at Cowen and Company, said in an investor note Tuesday.

However, Josh Raskin at Barclays adds that Anthem and Cigna could face "significant challenges in acquiring Humana." Their divestiture of Medicare Advantage members would have to be more appealing than Aetna's proposal to Molina Healthcare to ease antitrust concerns.

That's not all: Aetna, Anthem, Cigna and Humana could try to scoop up other smaller insurers that specialize in government health care, such as WellCare Health Plans. Medicare and Medicaid are by far growing the most for health insurers, making those niche companies desirable.

Go deeper

U.S. grants temporary protected status to thousands of Venezuelans

Venezuelan citizens participate in the vote for the popular consultation in December 2020, as part of a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Doral, Florida. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP

Venezuelans living in the United States will be eligible to receive temporary protected status for 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday.

Why it matters: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to the U.S. amid economic, political and social turmoil back home. Former President Trump, on his last full day in office, granted some protections to Venezuelans through the U.S. Deferred Enforced Departure program, but advocates and lawmakers said the move didn't go far enough.

"She-cession" threatens economic recovery

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Decades of the slow economic progress women made catching up to men evaporated in just one year.

Why it matters: As quickly as those gains were erased, it could take much, much longer for them to return — a warning Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued today.

The Week America Changed

Sandberg thought Zuckerberg was "nuts" on remote work in January 2020

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paul Marotta/Getty Image

Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg thought Mark Zuckerberg was "nuts" when he raised the possibility in January 2020 that 50,000 Facebook employees might have to work from home. By March 6, they were.

Why it matters: In an interview Monday with Axios Re:Cap, Sandberg explained how Facebook moved quickly to respond to the pandemic with grants for small businesses and work-from-home stipends for its employees, and how the company has been watching the unfolding crisis for women in the workforce.