CVS-Aetna deal gets final approval from judge

CVS Health's $69 billion purchase of Aetna is official after a federal judge ruled that with its planned divestitures, the deal is not anticompetitive, according to a Sept. 4 court order.

The final approval comes after an unprecedented, monthslong review of the merger's settlement by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon. Review of merger settlements from the Department of Justice is usually customary and quick, but Mr. Leon took issue with several parts of the proceedings. He argued federal officials kept him in the dark on certain aspects of the settlement and questioned if Aetna's sale of its Medicare Part D business to WellCare Health Plans alleviated antitrust concerns.

CVS and Aetna closed their deal in November 2018, after which Mr. Leon raised the prospect of not approving the deal during the routine legal process post-transaction. He said he rejected the government's and companies' treatment of him as a "rubber stamp" for the deal. Despite the court holdup, Mr. Leon did let CVS and Aetna begin integrating their businesses.

The American Medical Association, which has long opposed the deal and whose representatives spoke out against the merger during hearings this summer, said Mr. Leon's decision "fails patients, will likely raise prices, lower quality, reduce choice, and stifle innovation."

"For patients and employers struggling with recurrent increases to health insurance premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and prescription drug prices, it's hard to find any upside to a merger that leaves them with fewer choices," Patrice Harris, MD, president of the AMA, said in a Sept. 4 statement. "Nothing in the deal guarantees reductions on insurance premiums or prescription drug costs. As for promised efficiency savings, that money will likely go straight to CVS's bottom line." 

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