Anthem-Cigna discord compounds uncertainty over merger's future

Reports of behind-the-scenes bickering between Anthem and Cigna have reverberated in the stock market and raised further doubts about the likelihood that the health insurers' merger will win approval.

The two companies, which agreed to merge after sometimes-contentious negotiations, have been at odds over Anthem's lawsuit against Express Scripts and the submission of regulatory filings, among other issues, FierceHealthPayer has reported. News of the discord sent Anthem and Cigna's share prices tumbling Monday.

In addition, healthcare analysts in recent weeks have become more confident that the deal between Aetna and Humana will win approval than they are about an Anthem-Cigna marriage, according to Reuters. Those predictions gained even more steam amid news of the companies' disagreements.

Leerink Partners analyst Ana Gupte tells Reuters that, given the new developments, she estimates the Anthem-Cigna deal has a less than 50 percent chance of closing, a downgrade from the 70 percent chance she previously predicted.

Federal regulators have shown an increasing appetite to challenge major deals, and have been less willing to accept companies' proposed remedies to antitrust concerns. The Justice Department's William J. Baer also has described both major insurer mergers as potential game-changers for the industry that require close scrutiny.

However, Morningstar analyst Vishnu Lekraj predicts that the DOJ will ultimately allow the Anthem-Cigna deal to close--as long as the companies' executives can get along and "egos don't work their way into the situation," according to Reuters.

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