Progressive legislators urge feds to take closer look at $3.3B UnitedHealth-Amedisys deal

Two key progressive legislators are urging federal officials to take a closer look at UnitedHealth's potential $3.3 billion acquisition of Amedisys, citing concerns about vertical integration.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, sent a joint letter (PDF) to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission this week, calling the deal the "latest example of massive health care conglomerates using anticompetitive mergers to increase their market dominance, reducing competition, hurting patients, and increasing health care costs."

Warren and Jayapal note that UnitedHealth Group is already a massive company with a slew of diverse business lines, including serving as the largest employer of physicians in the country, the home of a massive pharamacy benefit manager and more.

"Without regulatory intervention, UHG has been able to reap excessive benefits by owning numerous components of the health care system and incentivizing its subsidiaries to maximize profit over care," they wrote.

UnitedHealth won a bidding war for home health company Amedisys in June, and the DOJ issued a second request for additional details on the merger in August. Last month, Amedisys shareholders overwhelmingly approved the deal.

Warren and Jayapal's letter recounts multiple highlights in UnitedHealth's recent spate of acquisitions, including the high-profile purchase of Change Healthcare that was unsuccessfully challenged by the DOJ.

The letter also examines UHG's recent spats with providers, including legal battles with Envision and TeamHealth as well as a dust-up over prior authorization for colonoscopies with docs.

The legislators said that digging into the UnitedHealth-Amedisys deal would align with proposed updates to merger guidelines, which would put a focus on the "whole series" of acqusitions made by a company. The merger in question, they said, is just one example of many similar moves in healthcare.

"Under the guidelines, regulators will therefore focus on conglomerates—which should include UHG—to holistically examine their anticompetitive effects, and potentially halt rampant vertical integration in healthcare," they wrote.