Judge Permits United Health to Merge with Change Healthcare, Frustrating DOJ

In a blow to the Biden administration’s efforts to protect competition in the healthcare industry, a Trump-appointed federal judge has allowed UnitedHealth Group to acquire Change Healthcare. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had attempted to intervene in the transaction.

District of Columbia Judge Carl Nichols permitted the transaction to go through in a mid-September ruling, blocking the DOJ but ordering Change Healthcare to sell off its ClaimsXten payment integrity arm.

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The DOJ had argued that in buying Change Healthcare, UnitedHealth would have access to the data of other payers that it could misuse to benefit UnitedHealthcare, its insurance division. The opinion thwarted the administration’s antitrust efforts in the industry.

UnitedHealth contended that it already had access to competitors’ data through its data analytics segment, Optum Insight, and that misusing such information would negatively impact its own fast-growing division. UnitedHealth said it plans to fold Change Healthcare into the division, according to Fierce Healthcare.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are reviewing the opinion closely to evaluate next steps," Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter said in a statement. "Protecting competition and access to affordable healthcare is of the utmost importance to the Antitrust Division and the Department of Justice. We are grateful to the Antitrust Division staff – the attorneys, economists, paralegals, and administrative professionals – who work tirelessly to uphold the value of competition.”

The trial went on for weeks and took place nearly two years after the merger was first announced. The plans were pushed back several times, and the DOJ ultimately sued in February.

TPJ Capital has announced it will buy ClaimsXten for $2 billion should the merger go through.