US: CVS defends settlement that allowed Aetna merger

CVS Health defended on Friday, December 14, an agreement with the US Justice Department (DOJ) which allowed it to purchase health insurer Aetna for US$69 billion, a settlement that a federal judge is still assessing.

The DOJ approved the merger of CVS, a US pharmacy chain and benefits manager, and Aetna in October on condition that Aetna sell its Medicare prescription drug plan business to WellCare Health Plans Inc. That sale was completed in November.

Now, the DOJ and companies have found themselves in the unusual position of defending their antitrust settlement to a skeptical federal judge. Most judges approve consent decrees aimed at resolving competition concerns with no fanfare, and deals normally close before the judge rules.

But Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in an order that he was “less convinced” than the government that the agreement would resolve antitrust concerns. He also has seemed annoyed that CVS closed its purchase of Aetna in October before his ruling.

In its brief, filed on Friday, CVS stated that the deal had been extensively reviewed and urged the judge to allow the companies to continue integrating while he examines the settlement reached with the government.

CVS also noted that Aetna would be run separately from CVS, including decisions pricing and product offerings, during the court process.

In its filing, the government urged the judge to allow the companies to press on with integration, claiming he

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