Aetna and Humana on Thursday extended the deadline of their planned merger a second time, to Feb. 15, a day after the government’s antitrust trial against the companies concluded.

The companies had announced last summer that Aetna, based in Hartford, Conn., sought to buy Louisville-based Humana for $37 billion, with an expected completion date by June 30 of this year. This summer, they extended the deadline to Dec. 31.

However, the judge in the antitrust case, which began Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C., is not expected to issue a ruling until early next year, prompting the parties on Thursday to extend the deadline again, this time to 11:59 p.m. Feb. 15, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Aetna and Humana say that together they can offer better health care to more people at lower prices, but the Justice Department argues the merger would materially decrease competition, lower the quality of care and increase prices for consumers, especially older Americans.

A UofL professor has told IL that insurance companies are merging because they believe that they need to get bigger to have enough bargaining power to negotiate good deals with health care providers, such as hospital systems, which also have gotten bigger.

Screenshot of Medicare website.

At the heart of the lawsuit lies a disagreement among the insurers and the government about whether customers readily switch between Medicare, the government-funded insurance for older citizens, and Medicare Advantage, which provides the same services, but is provided by private insurance companies.

While the trial ended Wednesday, lawyers for the companies and the Justice Department were given a final 90 minutes to make their case before the judge on Dec. 30, according to The Connecticut Mirror.

The nonprofit news outlet said the trial concluded on Wednesday, with U.S. District Judge John Bates “asking probing questions” of each side.

“Bates asked the lawyers for both parties if the deal violated antitrust laws if the Justice Department had only managed to prove the $37 billion merger would result in unacceptable lack of competition in one county or one state,” The Mirror reported. “Justice Department attorney Eric Mahr said it would. Aetna’s lawyer, John Majoras, said the Justice Department did not prove there would be a violation of antitrust laws anywhere.”

Bruce Broussard

Top executives from the companies testified in the 2.5-week trial. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini had reiterated that the company was reducing its participation in Affordable Care Act exchanges because it was losing money there — not because, as the government contends, the company was retaliating for the antitrust lawsuit. Humana CEO Bruce Broussard testified about the origins of the merger and said that both companies and their leaders share a passion for improving health care.

The case is important for Louisville for many reasons, as it could significantly affect Humana’s operations in Louisville, where the company employs about 12,000. Officials including the company’s co-founder have told IL that some employees likely would lose their jobs because of the merger, but that the net effect for Louisville could be positive, as Aetna has promised to maintain a “significant corporate presence” and the headquarters of its growing Medicare and Medicaid businesses here.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.