CVS, Aetna win U.S. approval for $69 bln deal

Richard Drew  Associated Press

The two companies cleared their path to merge when Aetna announced on September 27 that it reached an agreement to sell its Medicare Part D drug plan business to WellCare Health Plans for an undisclosed amount.

"The combination of CVS and Aetna creates an enormous market force that we haven't seen before, straddling more market sectors and creating new and potentially far-reaching profit-maximizing incentives to undermine competition", Slover said in a statement.

The tie-up will allow CVS - whose retail pharmacy business serves 5 million customers a day - to turn more of its brick-and-mortar locations into front-line clinics for basic medical services and patient monitoring. Last month, federal antitrust authorities also gave the green light to health insurer Cigna's acquisition of pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts.

CVS was up 9% this year and Aetna was higher by 14%.

"The AMA worked tirelessly to oppose this merger and presented a wealth of expert empirical evidence to convince regulators that the merger would harm patients", said AMA president Barbara McAneny Wednesday in a statement.

The Aetna acquisition is among the most significant health care mergers of the past decade, combining one of the top US drugstore chains with the third-biggest health insurer.

"The divestitures required here allow for the creation of an integrated pharmacy and health benefits company that has the potential to generate benefits by improving the quality and lowering the costs of the healthcare services that American consumers can obtain", Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said in a statement.
Both CVS and Aetna now have to secure state-level approvals before the merger is complete.

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Aetna shares were up 1.3 percent to $206.36 at 12:01 p.m.in NY.

Critics of the CVS-Aetna deal had anxious that the merger could lead to higher drug prices for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Together, CVS and Aetna have promised they will "remake the consumer health care experience". The companies maintain a prior view that the transaction will close in the early part of the fourth quarter of 2018. "Together, we will help address the challenges our health care system is facing, and we'll be able to offer better care and convenience at a lower cost for patients and payors".

An attempt by Aetna to acquire Humana was ultimately blocked a year ago by antitrust regulators.

CVS, a drugstore and retail chain, and insurer Aetna unveiled their merger in December 2017, part of a wave of health transactions aimed at controlling costs in the morass-like USA health system of public and private programs that is comprised of myriad hospitals, insurers, gatekeepers and drug companies. It has held talks with Walmart Inc. for a closer partnership to provide health care to consumers at home and prevent illness.

The Justice Department's Delrahim signaled a year ago that he was taking a tougher stand on deals that unite companies in different parts of an industry's supply chain when he sued to block AT&T Inc.'s takeover of Time Warner.

This year, the DOJ did not stand in the way of Cigna's takeover of Express Scripts.

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