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Will Anthem Win Its Fights to Save Merger Deal With Cigna?

As Anthem lawyers argued to save a proposed merger with Cigna in a federal appeals court, the words of the trial judge still hung in the air:

"There's an elephant in the room," U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said, describing the tension between the health care giants. Noting that Cigna's own lawyer had undermined Anthem's forecasts for the acquisition, Jackson struck down the merger six weeks ago on the grounds it would hurt the competition.

The tension between the companies has reached the breaking point since then. Cigna is now suing Anthem in another court over the blocked merger for a $1.85 billion termination fee, plus $13 billion in damages for its shareholders. Fighting on two fronts, Anthem has doubled down in the high-stakes game. Christopher Curren, Anthem's lawyer, told the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that it is about the consumer.

"This is dollars in the consumer's pocket," he said with a poker face.

A $54 Billion Deal

At one point in the past, the companies were working together to close a $54 billion deal. But it began to unravel as the Justice Department sued to block the merger and a judge nixed a similar deal between Aetna and Humana.

Despite the setbacks, Anthem has pushed forward. But it does not look good, as several trade groups filed amicus briefs arguing against the merger.

"Permitting an acquisition that will reduce the market for national insurers from four to three will lessen the inventive of all players in the market to innovate -- to the detriment of patients," the American Hospital Association said.

Justice Prevailing

Judge Brett Kavanaugh asked why the Justice Department challenged the merger when the parties said it would lower insurance rates. Scott Westrich, the government's attorney, said the deal would hurt competition and the quality of health care.

"Competition is not being enhanced in any way," he said.

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