Washington – Planned consolidations by some of the nation’s largest health insurers were propelled into the 2016 race for the White House Wednesday as Hillary Clinton said she has “serious concerns” about Aetna’s plan to acquire Humana and Anthem’s proposal to buy Cigna.
“As we see more consolidation in health care, among both providers and insurers, I’m worried that the balance of power is moving too far away from consumers,” Clinton said in a statement.
Clinton also said that, as president, she would toughen antitrust regulation at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and appoint “aggressive regulators” to take on industry concentration.
The Justice Department’s antitrust division is scrutinizing the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers.
Clinton said she had “serious concerns” the mergers would result in serious market concentration.
“I am very skeptical of the claim that consumers will benefit from them because the evidence from careful studies shows that too often the companies end up pocketing profits rather than passing savings to consumers,” Clinton said.
In a statement, Anthem spokeswoman Sarah Yeager said a “commitment to ensuring consumers have expanded access to affordable health coverage is the foundation of our combination with Cigna and will remain Anthem’s top priority.”
“We are engaged in a constructive and transparent dialogue with federal and state antitrust authorities about the benefits of this merger and the robust competition we see across geographies and market segments in the healthcare marketplace,” Yeager said.
She also said a marriage between Anthem and Cigna would result in “complementary capabilities” that would enhance patient access to hospitals and doctors.
Aetna also released a statement in response to Clinton’s comments.
It said its merger with Humana “is about creating positive change in the health care marketplace.”
“Aetna is focused on evolving the health care industry to a new model – one in which insurers, doctors and hospitals work together to lower costs and coordinate care to give people as many healthy days as possible,” the insurer said. “We expect the DOJ and the states to do a full and thorough review of this transaction, and we will work collaboratively with the department and the states during this process.”
Clinton’s comments come two days after Aetna shareholders quickly approved the company’s $37 billion plan to merge with Humana at a meeting in Glastonbury. The merger would make Aetna the largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans.
Anthem, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurer, wants to buy all of Cigna’s shares in a $54 billion cash and stock transaction that would cover 53 million members.
But Clinton said the mergers “should be scrutinized very closely with an eye to preventing the undue concentration that they appear to create.”
The front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Clinton has recently taken on the issue of health care costs. She has lambasted the pharmaceutical industry for what she calls “price gouging,” and said she would cap out-of-pocket prescription costs at $250 per month.
Congress has held recent hearings on the mega-mergers where lawmakers heard testimony from representatives of the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association, two powerful medical groups that oppose the mergers.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the mergers, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he is “deeply concerned about these mergers because of their potential effect on competition and the consolidation of power in fewer hands.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said Wednesday she agreed with Clinton.
“Competition in the insurance market is crucial to ensuring customers are charged a fair price when they see a doctor or undergo procedures,” DeLauro said. “I share Secretary Clinton’s serious concerns, and fear that the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers will be bad deals for everybody but the shareholders.”
But Samaia Hernandez, spokeswoman for Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, was more measured in her reaction.
“Congresswoman Esty has heard from constituents who have concerns about the Aetna-Humana, Anthem-Cigna mergers,” Hernandez said. “She agrees that both mergers should be closely monitored to ensure access to affordable, high-quality care for all consumers.”
On Wednesday, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade group for the nation’s health insurance industry, defended the mergers.
“Contrary to the political claims, the reality is that health plans are operating in one of the most competitive and highly regulated environments in the country with every premium dollar accounted for under the medical loss ratio and an arbitrary cap on profits,” AHIP spokeswoman Clare Krusing said.
She said if politicians want to make health care more affordable, “then policymakers should focus on addressing the real cost challenges facing patients — the soaring prices of prescription drugs and medical services — that drive up the cost of coverage and out-of-pocket costs for millions across the country.”