U.S. judge expecting CVS merger hearing for May

FILE PHOTO: Logos of CVS and Aetna are displayed on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge reviewing an agreement between the government and CVS Health Corp allowing the pharmacy chain to buy health insurer Aetna indicated on Friday that he wanted to hold a hearing in May to hear from critics of the $69 billion deal.

Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in a court hearing that he would likely take a week to hear from the American Medical Association and other opponents of the transaction, which closed in November.

Other critics included the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, pharmacy and consumer groups.

The Justice Department approved the merger of CVS, a U.S. pharmacy chain and benefits manager, and Aetna in October on condition that Aetna sell its Medicare prescription drug plan business to WellCare Health Plans Inc.

Both deals have closed, and the government and companies have asked Leon to approve their consent decree. This is usually done with little fanfare but Leon has said in previous hearings that he was “less convinced” than the government that the asset sale resolved antitrust concerns.

“Health care is a very high priority for tens of millions of people,” Leon said on Friday. “This is a matter of great public interest.”

Jay Owen, a lawyer for the Justice Department, urged the judge to consider avoiding further hearings, noting that the two sides as well as the deal’s critics had filed their arguments with the court.

“The total record is adequate to make a ruling,” said Owen.

CVS attorney Enu Mainigi of the law firm Williams and Connolly LLP agreed, saying: “I would urge the court to consider whether those witnesses are appropriate.”

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Richard Chang and Sandra Maler