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United’s pending purchase of Change Healthcare goes under the DOJ’s microscope

Is the deal anticompetitive, as the AHA thinks? Becker’s Health IT reported on March 29 that the government has decided to give it a closer look.

You may have read our earlier coverage of UnitedHealthcare subsidiary Optum’s intended purchase of Change Healthcare, the enormous administrative network that processes claims and medication requests for physicians and pharmacies.

Recently, the American Hospital Association (AHA) voiced its concerns about the deal, throwing the “antitrust” flag and asking the Department of Justice to do some digging. The AHA points out that this union could squelch competition for the sale of healthcare IT services to hospitals and other providers.

The AHA is also concerned that the acquisition would put a sizeable portion of the country’s healthcare data into the hands of a single entity. The association warns that UnitedHealth Group, which owns the country’s largest insurance company, could use Change’s vast stores of healthcare data to conduct untoward behavior. Like what? Well, the AHA didn’t mince words in its letter to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ): “Post-merger, Optum will have strong financial incentives to use competitive payers’ data to inform its reimbursement rates and set its competitive clinical strategy, which will reduce competition among payers and harm hospitals and other providers.”

We feel like these are compelling points, to be sure. And we’re glad that DOJ feels that this deal merits a closer look. The DOJ will ask United and Change to provide more information—a move that will surely slow down the transaction. We’re anxiously waiting to see what happens next.

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