Published: Sat, October 13, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Aetna deal OK'd by antitrust watchdog

Aetna deal OK'd by antitrust watchdog

Pharmacy chain CVS Health Corp won U.S. antitrust approval for its $69 billion acquisition of health insurer Aetna Inc, the Justice Department said on Wednesday, paving the way for a combination the companies say can help cut soaring United States healthcare costs.

The combination would create a giant with a hand in insurance, prescription drug benefits and drugstores across the U.S. By bringing those businesses under one roof, the companies are betting they'll be better positioned to face changing consumer habits and the emergence of new rivals.

In addition, Aetna released a separate disclosure that explains the sale of its Part D businesses to WellCare does not impact its Medicare Advantage (MA), MA prescription drug, or other Medicare health plan products. "We will keep close watch to ensure that the terms of this settlement are met", California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

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"The divestitures required here allow for the creation of an integrated pharmacy and health benefits company that has the potential to generate benefits by improving the quality and lowering the costs of the healthcare services that American consumers can obtain", Makan Delrahim, head of the department's Antitrust Division, said in a statement. The merger, which combines the largest USA retail pharmacy chain and the third largest health insurer, represents a paradigm shift toward major consolidation in the industry that could impact patient access and cost of care.

CVS covers about 94 million with pharmacy benefits (CVS acquired Caremark for $21 billion in 2017). And it follows a recent foray by Inc. into the drug business with its $1 billion purchase of online prescription company PillPack.

CVS, a drugstore and retail chain, and insurer Aetna unveiled their merger in December 2017, part of a wave of health transactions aimed at controlling costs in the morass-like U.S. health system of public and private programs that is comprised of myriad hospitals, insurers, gatekeepers and drug companies. Under the proposed settlement, Aetna must also assist WellCare in operating the business during the transition and in transferring the affected customers.

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Aetna shares were up 1.3 percent to $206.36 at 12:01 NY. The companies maintain a prior view that the transaction will close in the early part of the fourth quarter of 2018.

Merlo said in September that the combined Company will have more data, giving CVS a more complete picture of someone's health. CVS has previously said that the deal presents a novel opportunity to rethink access to lower cost, high-quality care in various settings and ultimately reshape the consumer health experience.

CVS Health Corp.'s plan to buy Aetna Inc. for $69 billion was cleared by USA antitrust regulators Wednesday, paving the way for the nation's largest pharmacy chain to acquire one of the largest health care insurers.

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