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The federal judge assigned to decide whether two high-profile health insurer mergers violate antitrust laws has ordered the case involving Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp. to be reassigned to another judge.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia, who was assigned to rule on the antitrust cases brought by the U.S. Justice Department in July against the Anthem-Cigna merger and Aetna Inc.-Humana Inc. merger, will retain the Aetna-Humana case.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia will take over the Anthem-Cigna case. Judge Jackson was appointed to her post by President Barack Obama in 2011.
Judge Bates earlier Friday stated in a court order that he cannot try both cases by the end of the year — a timeframe all insurers have requested.
Judge Bates said he would retain Aetna and Humana's case because it “must proceed on a shorter timeline,” due to a contractual merger deadline of Dec. 31. The Anthem-Cigna union has a deadline of April 30.
“While the Court declines to embrace the specifics of defendants' scheduling proposals, it acknowledges their need for expedition and is inclined to accommodate their contractual deadlines to the extent reasonable,” Judge Bates said in Friday's order. “Given the complexity and importance of these cases, the Court cannot feasibly try and decide both in that timeframe.”
The order comes after a Thursday joint status conference between the insurers, the government, and the court in which the all four insurers argued for separate, expedited trials beginning in fall 2016 with decisions by the end of the year.
Aetna and Humana urged for a two-week trial starting in mid-fall, while Anthem and Cigna argued for a three-week trial also beginning in the fall.
“The Aetna deal has been around longer, has been under investigation longer than the Cigna-Anthem deal,” John Majoras, counsel for Aetna, said during the Thursday conference, according to an official transcript.
“The idea of trying the Anthem case next year from our perspective is a nonstarter. That would just kill the deal,” Christopher Curran, counsel for Anthem, said during the hearing.
The U.S. government argued for a much slower pace with separate trials beginning in February 2017.
Judge Bates indicated Thursday that he would send one case back for reassignment, which would allow him to try the other case on a faster schedule than the government proposed.
(Reuters) — The judge assigned to rule whether the U.S. government can block the mergers of health insurers Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc., and Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp. said on Thursday it would be difficult for him to decide both cases by the end of the year.