UnitedHealth-Change Healthcare deal could close in late February

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UnitedHealth's controversial acquisition of Change Healthcare has a new deadline. (daizuoxin/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

UnitedHealth Group and Change Healthcare have agreed not to close their pending deal before Feb. 22—though the acquisition could close sooner if the Department of Justice (DOJ) wraps its probe early.

Change disclosed as part of its quarterly earnings this week that the two parties have amended their timing agreement with the DOJ, agreeing to hold off on closing the deal until Feb. 22. If they receive written notice that the DOJ has completed its investigation early, closing can proceed at that point.

The agreement is effective Nov. 1, Change said. 

"The parties have been working cooperatively with the DOJ and will continue to do so," Change said in its earnings release.

RELATED: American Antitrust Institute expresses concern about proposed Optum-Change Healthcare deal

UnitedHealth executives said during its earnings call last month that it expects the $8 billion acquisition to close in the "first part" of 2022. The agreement was first announced in January and since then has generated plenty of controversy.

Providers such as the American Hospital Association argue the acquisition would lead to a harmful consolidation of healthcare data. UnitedHealth intends to fold Change into its existing OptumInsight business arm, one of Optum's key subsidiaries.

The DOJ began investigating the acquisition in March amid a growing chorus of antitrust concerns. The agency was reportedly considering a lawsuit to intervene in the deal in early August, but later that month UnitedHealth and Change entered into a timing agreement to delay closing until it completed its investigation.

Change said in the release that both parties have "certified substantial compliance" with the department's second request for additional information and documents to examine the merger.