Pharmacist Groups Urge Federal Judge to Stop CVS-Aetna Merger

DECEMBER 17, 2018
Jennifer Barrett, Associate Editor
Despite the completion of CVS Health’s purchase of Aetna in November, the company continues to be challenged over the merger’s potentially harmful effect on consumers and smaller competitors.
 
Even though the deal received Department of Justice (DOJ) clearance, several pharmacy associations, as well as the American Medical Association and patient groups, continue to urge for the merger to be blocked. On Friday, the Pharmacists United for Truth and Transparency (PUTT) and the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY) jointly filed a motion asking Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia to stop CVS and Aetna from further integration while the Court determines the merger’s harmful effects.
 
“We strongly believe the Department of Justice’s decision is shortsighted,” Teresa Dickinson, president of PUTT, said in a statement. “Past acquisitions have enabled CVS to restrict consumer access and force them to use more expensive drugs. That’s why the California Commissioner of Insurance, major consumer groups such as Consumers Union, the American Antitrust Institute, and the American Medical Association—the nation’s largest group of health care providers—all stated the merger should be blocked.”
 
The DOJ approved the merger in October on the condition that Aetna sell its Medicare prescription drug plan business to WellCare Health Plans Inc. Following that sale and approval from New York, CVS and Aetna officially finalized the transaction in November.
 
In the filing, however, PUTT and PSSNY pointed out that Wellcare contracts with CVS Caremark, which is owned by CVS Health, to administer the Medicare Part D portion of its business.
 
“Spinning off a Part D business is notoriously difficult and the half-a-loaf solution is doomed to failure,” David Balto, an attorney representing consumer groups that are also filing a motion to intervene in the hearing, said in the press release. “Wellcare, the hand-picked acquirer of the assets, will have to more than double in size to succeed. It has failed to pull off much smaller acquisition. DOJ’s light handed acceptance of a weak buyer at a fire sale is contrary to sound antitrust policy and the DOJ’s actions in blocking the Aetna/Humana merger.”
 
According to a Reuters article, Judge Leon expressed in an order that he was “less convinced” than the government that the agreement would resolve antitrust concerns. CVS countered that the deal had been extensively reviewed and urged the judge to allow the companies to continue integration while he examines the settlement reached with the government.
 
“We are asking the Court to stop the consolidation so that the concerns of patients, providers, and consumers can be heard,” PSSNY President Debbi Barber said in a statement. “We believe in due process and the right of small business—but especially small businesses who provide medical care to patients and individuals—to have fair and equal access to patients, and to be able to maintain our relationships with our patients. To that end, we will continue to voice our dissent for this merger and use every tool at our disposal to be heard.”
 

Reference
 
PUTT, PSSNY File Joint Motion to Intervene in December 18 CVS-Aetna Hearing, Citing Serious Concerns for Harm to Patients and Smaller Competitors [news release]. PUTT’s website. https://www.truthrx.org/press-releases/putt-pssny-file-joint-motion-to-intervene-in-december-18-cvs-aetna-hearing-citing-serious-concerns-for-harm-to-patients-and-smaller-competitors?rel=0" . Accessed December 17, 2018.

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