Optum, Change Healthcare extend merger agreement as they gear up to fight DOJ suit

UnitedHealth Group's Optum and Change Healthcare have further extended their merger agreement to Dec. 31. The extension comes ahead of a two-week trial to determine the deal's fate.

The Department of Justice sued to block the merger in late February, alleging that the combination could allow UnitedHealth to get a leg up on its competitors in the insurance space. The deal was first announced in January 2021 and is valued at $8 billion in cash and $5 billion in debt.

The trial is set to begin on Aug. 1.

“The extended agreement reflects our firm belief in the potential of our combination to improve healthcare and in our commitment to contesting the meritless legal challenge to this merger," the companies said in a joint statement Tuesday.

In its suit, DOJ said that integrating the data Change Healthcare possesses into Optum would give UnitedHealth access to trade secrets it could use to benefit UnitedHealthcare, its insurance arm and the country's largest private payer. Critics of the merger have also charged that it would lead to a monopoly on healthcare data.

UHG fired back in a court filing that this was just speculation, as it already accesses data on competitors through its OptumInsight business. If it were to misuse that data, it would amount to "economic suicide" for Optum, UnitedHealth said.

The companies argue instead that the merger would simplify claims, administrative and payment processes, leading to less friction and more efficiency.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that Change was close to a deal to sell off its ClaimsXten business arm to New Mountain Capital. Change Healthcare began mulling a sale of ClaimsXten in hopes of convincing the feds to sign off on the UnitedHealth merger.