| WASHINGTON, Sept 30
WASHINGTON, Sept 30 The judge who will rule on
whether the government may stop health insurer Anthem
from buying competitor Cigna said Friday that she was
considering splitting the trial into phases.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia said that she was mulling hearing
separately about the effect of the merger on the national market
in one phase and on local markets in a second phase with a
potential decision after the first set of arguments.
The Justice Department argues that the deal would reduce
competition and raise prices for consumers.
"My initial reaction is that it's better," said Christopher
Curran, who is arguing the case for Anthem. "If we're going to
lose and we lose quickly, that's better for everyone."
The trial in the case is to begin on Nov. 21, with a
conclusion by Dec. 30.
The government also alleged that the merger would give the
new, combined company too much power to set the rates of health
care providers, essentially a monopsony case. That could be
argued with either phase, said Jon Jacobs, who argued for the
"I'm going to think about this. I think it's more
complicated than I had thought," the judge said, adding that she
still believed it would be beneficial to hear arguments in
Cigna's lawyer, Charles Rule, asked if he would be allowed
to object to questions from Anthem, referring to the contentious
relationship between the two companies.
"I'm not sure exactly what will come up," said Rule. "(But)
there may need to be an objection."
The judge responded with surprise. "I'm not going to tell
you that it's prohibited but I find it highly extraordinary,"
Anthem had sought a ruling by the end of the year on whether
the government could stop the deal because the insurer said it
needed time to wrap up merger reviews by state insurance
commissioners by April 30, a deadline the companies set to
complete the deal. Anthem has said failure to meet the deadline
could prompt Cigna to pull out.
The Justice Department filed lawsuits on July 21 asking a
federal court to stop two huge healthcare mergers: Anthem's
planned $45 billion purchase of Cigna, as well as Aetna Inc's
$33 billion planned acquisition of Humana. The
trial on the Aetna deal is set for Dec. 5.
If both mergers go through, No. 1 U.S. insurer UnitedHealth
Group Inc would rank second after Anthem. Aetna would be
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)