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Briefs sealed in UnitedHealth and Change antitrust trial

District Judge Carl Nichols is expected to release a ruling in the case before the end of October.

Healthcare Finance


Briefs in the case of the United States v. UnitedHealth Group and Change Healthcare were filed on August 31, but are under seal in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Both briefs include findings of fact and conclusions of law following a two-week bench trial last month in the case brought by the Department of Justice to block the merger between UnitedHealth Group and Change Healthcare.


District Judge Carl Nichols is expected to release a ruling in the case before the end of October.


WHY THIS MATTERS


The DOJ has said the merger would likely substantially lessen competition in the market.

"On this score, Plaintiffs offer only theory, not meaningful record evidence," UnitedHealth Group said in a brief filed in July with the court.


"It is not sufficient for plaintiffs to speculate that UHG might misuse customer data or withhold innovations from rivals," UHG said in the July brief. "With respect to data, plaintiffs must show that post-merger, EDI claims data would be shared with UHC – despite years of Optum strictly adhering to its firewall policies – and that sharing such data would harm competition and consumers in the alleged large group and national account markets."


The proposed firewall does not protect the sensitive data, the DOJ countered in its own July brief. "At most it prevents United from using data obtained from its competitors …" the DOJ said.


Optum is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group that serves a majority of payers in this country. Its OptumInsight arm provides data and analytics to hospitals, physicians and health plans.

The merger would unite OptumInsight and Change.


Hospitals are against the merger that would unite two of the nation's largest technology and service companies, citing anti-competitive concerns.


UnitedHealth contends that its estimated $13 billion acquisition of Change would increase efficiency, reduce friction in healthcare, produce a better consumer experience and lower costs.


THE LARGER TREND


After Optum and Change announced their intent to merge in January 2021, the American Hospital Association sent a letter to the DOJ's Antitrust Division. The AHA said the merger threatened to reduce competition for the sale of healthcare information technology services to hospitals and other providers.


The deal would also result in a large-scale consolidation of competitively sensitive healthcare data and make it available to UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer, according to the AHA. This could distort decisions about patient care, claims processing and denials, while increasing UnitedHealthcare's considerable market power, according to the AHA.


UnitedHealth Group has said it would sell Change's claims editing business if the deal went through.


This February, the Department of Justice sued to block the deal, citing the monopoly of data consolidation.

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