Judge Voices Skepticism of Antitrust Challenge to UnitedHealth Deal

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WASHINGTON—A national justice grilled the Justice Department connected Thursday implicit its antitrust claims that UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s UNH 1.12% $13 cardinal acquisition of health-technology firm Change Healthcare Inc. CHNG 2.34% would suppress contention and bounds innovation successful wellness security markets.

During closing arguments, U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols questioned the department’s arguments that helium should artifact the woody due to the fact that it would bounds contention for exertion utilized successful claims processing and would springiness UnitedHealth entree to delicate manufacture information that it could usage to harm competitors.

The Justice Department sued successful February to artifact the deal, and a proceedings took place successful August.

UnitedHealth, the genitor of the nation’s largest insurer, agreed successful January 2021 to bargain Change Healthcare for astir $8 cardinal and presume different $5 cardinal successful debt. It wants to harvester the exertion steadfast with its ain wellness services arm, Optum.

Change provides services related to outgo processes for healthcare systems, analytics for financing and billing, and tools that assistance hospitals marque decisions astir diligent care.

UnitedHealth has agreed to divest portion of its claims-processing concern successful a bid to code contention concerns surrounding the merger.

Justice Department lawyer Eric Welsh said Thursday the divestiture wasn’t capable and argued that allowing the woody would springiness UnitedHealth “unprecedented monopoly power” implicit exertion utilized to find erstwhile security claims should beryllium paid.

Judge Nichols questioned wherefore UnitedHealth’s planned divestiture wouldn’t code that concern, due to the fact that different concern would measurement successful to vie connected claims processing.

With the divestiture, the merger wouldn’t pb to a monopoly, helium said.

In summation to the monopoly concerns, Mr. Welsh argued that UnitedHealth’s ownership of Change would springiness the institution important entree to information from its security competitors that person utilized Change’s services, which could suppress innovation and yet harm consumers.

Judge Nichols asked Mr. Welsh what benignant of grounds was presented astatine proceedings that shows rivals would halt innovating. He besides asked what hazard different insurers faced, and whether determination would inactive beryllium imaginable harms if UnitedHealth didn’t usage the data.

The justice besides directed immoderate pointed questions astatine the companies, asking wherefore imaginable concerns astir innovation wouldn’t beryllium capable to found that the woody would lessen competition.

UnitedHealth lawyer Craig Primis said determination was nary grounds that the institution would usage the accusation against its rivals. The institution has said the combined entity would amended attraction by providing amended accusation to doctors and trim discarded by making the healthcare outgo process much efficient.

Mr. Primis said nary rivals testified that they would beryllium harmed. “The deficiency of enactment is remarkable,” helium said. “It’s furniture upon furniture of speculation.”

Judge Nichols is expected to contented his ruling successful the coming weeks.

Write to Erin Mulvaney astatine [email protected]

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