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Colorado’s attorney general takes the unusual step of intervening in a proposed United merger

On June 19, 2019, The Colorado Sun broke a story about a state lawmaker standing up against anticompetitive consolidation practices in the insurance industry. Sir, we applaud you.

The 2017 acquisition of DaVita Medical Group by UnitedHealthGroup had impacts across the country, but the strongest opposition to the deal came from the Colorado State Attorney General Phil Weiser, who took the unusual step of attempting to block the merger despite sign off from the Federal Trade Commission. One of the primary ways that payors are gaining control of the healthcare system is through the purchase of physician practices and no one, including Weiser, was surprised when UnitedHealthGroup—which owns UnitedHealthcare and Optum, one of the larger physician employers in the country—swooped in with a lucrative $4.3 billion offer for DaVita Medical Group. But Weiser was alarmed. He immediately recognized that if the 100 DaVita doctors located in his state moved under Optum, Coloradans with Medicare Advantage plans run by other insurers would lose their in-network access to these providers. Why? Because Optum only contracts with United physicians. Weiser stated that the merger would result in “reduced competition, higher health care costs, reduced benefits, and fewer choices for seniors.” He could not stop the deal from going through, but he did manage to reach an agreement that provided broader protection for Coloradans, and pledged publicly to continue fighting against anticompetitive consolidation practices “whether or not the federal government acts to protect Coloradans.” Weiser’s intervention points to a broader trend of state lawmakers speaking out and standing up against the consolidation of power within the insurance industry.

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