U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon has approved the $69 billion acquisition of Aetna by CVS Health, he announced in an opinion on Sept. 4. The ruling closes the last uncertainty about the deal, which closed in late 2018 and was approved by all other regulators last year.
CVS and Aetna began integrating immediately after the deal closed, despite a potential upset from a court review. Aetna offloaded its Medicare Part D business, WellCare Health Plans, prior to the deal closing as part of an antitrust agreement from the DOJ. Judge Leon reviewed a lawsuit from the U.S. that challenged the merger, which brought together one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and pharmacy retailers with the third largest health insurer in the U.S. At one point, Leon accused regulators, including the Department of Justice, of giving the deal a “rubber stamp” approval.
“The merger combines two healthcare giants,” Leon wrote in his opinion. “Its effects, for better or worse, will be felt by millions of consumers.”
According to Leon, CVS and the Government provided “a more persuasive rebuttal” than the opposers of the deal.
“CVS Health and Aetna have been one company since November 2018, today’s action by the district court makes that 100 percent clear,” reads a statement from CVS Health. “We remain focused on transforming the consumer health care experience in America."
Since integrating, CVS has launched a new store concept that provides more healthcare and primary care services to communities.
Some industry groups were quick to condemn the ruling.
“Despite an unprecedented review that dragged many details of this merger into the light, today’s decision ultimately fails patients, will likely raise prices, lower quality, reduce choice, and stifle innovation,” Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement. “The American people and our health system will not be served well by allowing a merger that combines health insurance giant Aetna Inc. with CVS Health Corporation.”
The AMA was one of the most vocal groups in opposition of the merger, arguing it would make healthcare prices higher and reduce patient choices. AMA was only allowed to present its arguments in court.