By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Monday denied the Justice Department’s attempt to block United Health Group (NYSE) from buying Change Healthcare (NASDAQ :), in a blow to tougher U.S. administration enforcement of antitrust cases.
The rate of change in shares increased by 7% after the close of trading.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in February aimed at stopping the $8 billion takeover, saying the deal would give the largest US health insurer access to its competitors’ data and ultimately drive up health care costs.
The department’s chief antitrust official, Jonathan Kanter, said they were “closely reviewing the opinion to assess next steps.”
UnitedHealth announced the all-cash deal in January 2021, saying it would help streamline administrative and payment processes.
Judge Carl Nichols said in a brief order on Monday that he would reject the government’s request to halt the deal, and ordered the companies to proceed with the sale of the assets they proposed.
The order follows a trial in the case in August in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
UnitedHealth said it was “delighted with the decision” and looked forward to integrating with the change as soon as possible.
The Department of Justice said UnitedHealth and Change Healthcare offer a competing health care claims processing program and together serve 38 of the country’s top 40 health insurers.
The department argued that access to the claims would give UnitedHealth a look at competitors’ health plans, including Humana you (NYSE :), Anthem Inc, and others.
The DOJ’s loss follows a recent ruling by a Federal Trade Commission judge that genetic analysis equipment maker Illumina (NASDAQ:) should be allowed to buy cancer test manufacturer Grail — a move the agency opposed.
The Justice Department also lost a bid to win convictions for executives at chicken manufacturers it accused of fixing prices.
But the agencies also scored wins, successfully eliminating deals planned by Aon (NYSE 🙂 Plc and Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ 🙂 Plc as well as Lockheed Martin (NYSE:) to buy engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne.