‘Under siege by consolidation’: Antitrust trade group comes out against UnitedHealth-Change merger

An antitrust trade group has come out against UnitedHealth’s proposed acquisition of radiology vendor Change Healthcare, worried the deal could harm both competition and consumers.

The American Antitrust Institute voiced its concerns in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice sent on Wednesday. In it, AAI President Diana Moss argued that letting the two healthcare giants merge would eliminate competition between UnitedHealth Group’s IT-enabled health services subsidiary Optum, and Change.

Moss and the institute also believe that making Optum more powerful might boost the sway of its parent company’s already “dominant” health insurance plan, UnitedHealthcare, to the disadvantage of rivals.

“The U.S. healthcare system is under siege by consolidation and high and rising concentration, to the proven detriment of consumers and healthcare providers,” she wrote to Richard Powers, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ, on May 5. “The current matter presents an important opportunity for the Antitrust Division to advance the ball on protecting competition in critically important healthcare markets, but also to leverage its knowledge of digital technology markets and the unique challenges they pose for competition enforcement.”

AAI, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group, joins numerous others lining up to oppose the $13 billion deal, first proposed in January. Those include the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, and some of Change Healthcare’s stockholders (though the overwhelming majority approved the transaction in April). Following a similar letter from the hospital association and its legal counsel, the Justice Department launched an investigation of the merger in March.

Optum did not immediately respond to a Radiology Business request for comment Thursday, nor did Change, a Blackstone Group-backed, Nashville, Tennessee-based provider of software solutions in radiology and other specialties.

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