A federal judge is set to hear the looming antitrust challenge against Aetna and Humana's proposed $37 billion merger in December, with a decision coming in mid-January.
According to media reports, U.S. District Judge John Bates scheduled the highly anticipated trial for a Dec. 5 start date during a status conference in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday.
The judge was apparently “struck” by Aetna's inability to explain how it would be harmed by a delayed trial date, according to legal news site Law360.
A timeline on the Justice Department's case has been a source of contention between the health insurers and the government, as Aetna and Humana initially wanted a two-week trial in September with a decision by the end of the year to keep the deal alive.
The Justice Department had asked for a February trial, as it has to compile its cases against both the Aetna-Humana merger and Anthem's proposed $53 billion acquisition of Cigna Corp. Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the Anthem-Cigna case, has yet to set a trial date for that challenge, but she is eyeing a December 2016 or January 2017 trial, according to the docket. Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish has pushed for an October trial.
Aetna has until Dec. 31 to close the Humana acquisition, or it could face doling out $1 billion to Humana in a break-up fee. The Justice Department claims that the companies could voluntarily extend the option date, if they're still interested in combining operations.
The federal judges have encouraged the four companies and federal government to allow for joint discovery to help expedite the proceedings.
The judge said the trial will likely last two and a half weeks until Dec. 21, according to Reuters.