Aetna and Anthem's multibillion-dollar health insurance mergers may be decided by year-end, after all. The federal judge overseeing the U.S. Justice Department's challenges to the deals has sent one case to another judge.
U.S. District Judge John Bates said there was no way he could try and decide the cases against Aetna's $37 billion deal for Humana and Anthem's $53 billion acquisition of Cigna Corp. by their requested year-end deadline, returning the Anthem-Cigna case back to the federal court for reassignment. Judge Amy Berman Jackson has been selected to oversee the Anthem-Cigna lawsuit, according to court filings.
Jackson is eyeing December 2016 or January 2017 for the Anthem-Cigna trial, according to the docket.
Bates refused to “embrace the specifics” of Aetna and Anthem's quest for expedited proceedings, but said the courts should try to reasonably accommodate the deals' deadlines.
“Ultimately, it will be fairer to the parties and better for the public if one of the cases is randomly assigned to another judge in the district, who can give it prompt and full attention while this judge does the same with the other,” Bates wrote.
Aetna and Humana had requested a two-week trial in September with a decision by the end of the year to keep the deal from crumbling. According to the merger agreement, Humana could walk away if it doesn't close by Dec. 31, scoring a $1 billion breakup fee in the process.
In the Anthem-Cigna merger, Anthem has until April 30, 2017, to close the deal before paying Cigna a $1.8 billion breakup fee, and there are real concerns that Cigna is no longer interested in fighting for the consolidation. It has asked for a three-week trial in October and a decision by the end of the year in order to secure state approvals before the option date.
The Justice Department has fought the insurers' attempts to speed up the proceedings, saying the complexity of the case requires a mid-February trial date at the earliest.
Bates has encouraged the court to allow joint discovery in the cases to help move the proceedings along.