Joseph Swedish: Tension with Cigna won't derail merger

Amid reports that Anthem and Cigna leaders have been bickering over merger-related issues, Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish wants to assure investors that the transaction is progressing as planned.

Speaking at the UBS Global Healthcare Conference on Tuesday, Swedish (right) acknowledged the two companies have experienced an expected degree of "dynamic tension," noting that "quite frankly, along the way you hit these bumps, but we're going to overcome this."

Swedish said the companies are collaborating closely as they go through the regulatory process, which he described as having "a very, very long tail to it."

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Even so, he expressed confidence that the deal will close in the not-too-distant future and noted that the companies are meeting deadlines for data submittals required by the Justice Department.

"The two teams are working extremely well together," Swedish said, later adding, "We're not being distracted by the noise that exists out in the media."

Some industry analysts, though, see news of the Anthem-Cigna discord as a bad sign for the merger's prospect of winning regulatory approval. Of particular concern is the fact that the Justice Department could consider the effects of the deal on competition nationally, not just locally, as it has done for other recent mergers.

To that end, Anthem General Counsel Tom Zielinski said during the conference that the company knew the issue of Anthem and Cigna's national account business would be tricky for DOJ to unravel, as it hasn't before taken a position on whether it considers that a national market.

"I still feel very comfortable that we'll be able to demonstrate that there is not a national market for national accounts," he said. "If I have to get there, I do believe there are ways we can construct a remediation plan that would not be overly complex that the DOJ can get comfortable with."

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