In a blow to the Biden administration’s efforts to beef up antitrust enforcement, a federal judge on Monday rejected the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) efforts to halt UnitedHealth Group’s $13 billion acquisition of data and payment processing firm Change Healthcare.
Stricter antitrust enforcement has been a goal of the Biden administration since an executive order last summer charged enforcement agencies to be more aggressive in a bid to “increase competition” and reduce the power of large conglomerates. The DOJ argued that since UnitedHealth’s rivals in the insurance industry use Change Healthcare’s systems to compete with UnitedHealth, it was improper for UnitedHealth to be allowed to own Change, according to The Wall Street Journal.
However, the Trump-appointed Judge Carl J. Nichols ruled in favor of the deal, under the condition that Change sell subsidiary ClaimsXten, as planned, in a one-page court order. The deal, which would formally combine Change Healthcare with UnitedHealth’s service arm, Optum, has been touted by Optum as an opportunity for the two companies to combine their powers to offer simpler, more efficient services for patients, providers and payers.
A UnitedHealth Group spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the conglomerate was hoping the deal could be processed quickly, “so that together we can continue our work to make the health system work better for everyone.”
Despite successfully negotiating a nearly $85 million settlement from poultry producers this summer for antitrust violations, the administration has struggled in recent weeks to maintain its tough stance on antitrust. A bill to break up Big Tech has stalled in Congress, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently lost a case to prevent biotechnology firm Illumina from purchasing cancer-testing firm Grail, according to The Wall Street Journal. (RELATED: Congress May Have Missed Its Chance To Break Up Big Tech)
— Bertha Coombs (@berthacoombs) September 19, 2022
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are reviewing the opinion closely to evaluate next steps,” said Assistant Attorney General Johnathan Kanter, speaking on behalf of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division in a statement. “Protecting competition and access to affordable healthcare is of the utmost importance to the Antitrust Division and the Department of Justice.”
A ruling is expected on the DOJ’s suit attempting to thwart a deal between publishers Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, the WSJ reported. Should the deal go through, their combined market share would account for roughly a third of all book sales in the U.S., and combine the largest and third-largest publishers in the country, according to the WSJ.
The DOJ directed the DCNF to Kanter’s statement.
Change Healthcare did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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