Federal antitrust authorities for a second time have declined to take issue with the planned merger of Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross and Pittsburgh-based Highmark, the two biggest Blues plans in Pennsylvania.
The companies, which together cover 8 million residents, have yet to win the blessing of the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance and were required to reapply to the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department because more than a year had passed since the first time the proposed transaction received federal antitrust clearance in May 2007, two months after the parties announced theyd agreed to combine operations.
The Department of Insurance held public hearings on the deal this month in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and the companies must answer questions from those sessions, as well as more than 70 questions from the department staff, spokeswoman Rosanne Placey said. The public comment period will close at the end of August, and Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario hopes to make a decision by the end of the year, although that timeline is predicated on if and how the Blues answer all the questions, Placey said.
In a written statement, Highmark President and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Melani called the federal decision a reaffirmation that the consolidation will not adversely affect actual or potential competition in Pennsylvania. -- by Gregg Blesch