On February 24, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed suit to block UnitedHealth’s proposed acquisition of Change Healthcare. UnitedHealth owns the largest health insurer in the U.S., while Change Healthcare is a data company whose software is the largest processor of health insurance claims in the U.S. The DOJ alleges that the acquisition, if allowed to proceed, would give UnitedHealth unfettered access to rival health insurers’ competitively sensitive information, including health insurance pricing. According to the complaint, this would lessen competition and “result in higher cost, lower quality, and less innovative commercial health insurance for employers, employees, and their families.”
The DOJ’s challenge continues a recent trend of aggressive enforcement involving vertical mergers (i.e. transactions between firms at different levels of the supply chain), with the Federal Trade Commission challenging three vertical mergers in the last year alone. These enforcement efforts represent a material shift from the prior enforcement attitude, which often allowed parties to resolve competition concerns raised by vertical mergers through conduct remedies such as information firewalls or supply commitments. The DOJ’s decision to forego such a remedy (assuming one was proposed) signals the government’s intent to take a tougher stance on mergers in the healthcare space. President Joe Biden previously listed prescription drugs and healthcare services as an antitrust priority area in his July 9, 2021 executive order.
The complaint was filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia and can be accessed here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1476676/download.