The companies’ CEOs argued that they presented a "compelling case" and addressed all of the concerns put forth by the Department of Justice, which filed an antitrust lawsuit last summer to prevent the 2015-announced merger from being completed, citing reduced competition, increased prices to consumers, and hindered innovation.
Both companies vowed to keep their focus on their current respective operating plans while they evaluate potential outcomes.
It was always going to be a tall order for Aetna to purchase Humana. The conclusion from Judge John B. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that a completed merger would be a significant threat to competition in the insurance market was not so surprising as several regulators and organizations spent months urging the government to block it.
"The government identified 364 counties across 21 states where it argues that concentration in the Medicare Advantage market would rise above the presumptively unlawful level if the (Aetna-Humana) merger proceeds, and 17 counties across 3 states where that would be true in the public exchange markets," the court ruling stated.
Aetna and Humana failed to convince the court of their claim that the merger would actually help consumers. "The primary goal of the Humana transaction is to enable us to offer consumers a broader choice of products, access to higher quality and more affordable care, and a better overall experience in more geographic locations across the country," the companies' website states. However, the court ruled their "proffered efficiencies do not offset the anticompetitive effects of the merger."
The companies did not provide any details on what some of their “available options” might be. An Aetna spokesperson told Reuters, however, that an appeal was among the options under consideration – a strategy that may be unlikely to succeed.
The court's decision could be perceived as a bad portent for the pending $54 billion merger between Anthem and Cigna, which is still awaiting a final decision in their separate antitrust case also brought by the DOJ in 2016. While Anthem recently said it would extend its contractual deadline to April 30, sources told the New York Post Judge Amy Berman Jackson is expected to block the its transaction as well.