Justice Department to further review $13B UnitedHealth, Change Healthcare deal

The U.S. Justice Department will take a closer look at UnitedHealth Group's proposed acquisition of Change Healthcare, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing cited by Bloomberg.

Officials from the Justice Department asked both companies for more information about the transaction. The request gives the agency more time to review the deal.

The Justice Department's request for more information comes just over a week after the American Hospital Association urged the department to investigate the deal.

In January, UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Optum announced its intent to purchase Nashville, Tenn.-based data analytics firm Change Healthcare in a deal amounting to $13 billion. 

In a letter sent March 17, the hospital association said that the deal threatens to harm providers and reduce competition for healthcare IT services.

The hospital lobby said the transaction will result in a loss of market competition for claims clearinghouse, payment accuracy, revenue cycle management and clinical decision support services. Hospitals are also worried that the deal would transfer much of the country's healthcare data from Change Healthcare, a neutral third party, to a single, powerful owner. 

The hospital association said it is worried that UnitedHealth Group, which owns the largest insurance company in the U.S., will use the healthcare data to deny claims and grow its market power. 

"Post-merger, Optum will have strong financial incentives to use competitive payers' data to inform its reimbursement rates and set its competitive clinical strategy, which will reduce competition among payers and harm hospitals and other providers," the hospital association wrote.

The AHA said that UnitedHealth Group and Change Healthcare are aware the deal presents antitrust concerns because the agreement reveals that it will divest assets that generate hundreds of millions of dollars to obtain approval from the Justice Department. 

"Optum and Change Healthcare share a vision for better health outcomes and experiences for everyone, at lower cost," an Optum spokesperson told Becker's Hospital Review when asked about the AHA's opposition. "With distinct and complementary capabilities, this combination will help healthcare providers and payers better serve patients by more effectively connecting and simplifying key clinical, administrative and payment processes to the benefit of the health system and the people we serve."

Change Healthcare declined to comment on the deal, but confirmed the SEC filing. 

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