August 10, 2016 / 5:45 PM / in a year

Judge sets Aetna-Humana antitrust trial date for Dec. 5

(Reuters) - The federal judge hearing the U.S. Justice Department’s case to block Aetna Inc’s $34 billion purchase of Humana Inc has set a trial date for Dec. 5, later than the companies had requested.

Aetna and Humana are fighting the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit asserting that combining the two companies will harm consumers and raise prices.

Aetna had asked for a trial date in the fall, perhaps October, because of a Dec. 31 deadline for the deal’s completion. The Justice Department has said that that deadline can be pushed back.

Judge John Bates, who will decide if the merger may go forward, said during a hearing on Wednesday that the companies had failed to define any harm in a later trial.

Bates said that the trial would likely end on Dec. 21 and that the case would most likely be decided in mid- to late January.

The Justice Department filed lawsuits on July 21 asking a federal court to stop Aetna’s planned acquisition of Humana as well as Anthem’s planned $45 billion purchase of Cigna.

Aetna has argued that a single question will dominate the trial: Does Medicare Advantage, which is managed by insurance companies, compete with Medicare, which is managed by the government? The government says that the two products do not compete while insurers argue that they do.

If Medicare Advantage competes against traditional Medicare, then Aetna’s MA products compete against the government’s Medicare and the deal is much likely to be deemed legal under antitrust law.

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