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However health insurance deals shake out, UnitedHealth likely to come out on top

Nation's largest insurer may not need merger to be well-positioned

As the major health insurance companies continue their consolidation dance, the country's largest insurer will be sitting pretty regardless of whether it strikes a deal to acquire a smaller competitor, according to an opinion piece published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

UnitedHealth Group has reportedly courted Aetna for acquisition, but even if the $37 billion deal between Aetna and Humana continues as planned, the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company will still enjoy the title of the nation's largest insurer, writes business columnist Lee Schafer.

"With its growing Optum group of technology-enabled services, it's the best positioned for the long haul, too," Schafer writes.

UnitedHealth's massive size and diversified portfolio may also be what led it to leave the largest industry trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans. The company also boasts its own pharmacy benefit management system thanks to its $12.8 billion purchase of Catamaran, a move that a combined Aetna and Humana may emulate once Aetna's contract with CVS Health expires, the two insurers' leaders said recently.

A deal between Anthem and Cigna, meanwhile, remains elusive despite predictions that the Aetna-Humana merger would pressure the two companies to hasten their once-contentious takeover talks.

The insurance industry consolidation news has worried some provider groups, but the merger-and-acquisition frenzy is only likely to cause minimal price pressure for hospitals in the short term, FierceHealthFinance reports. The Aetna-Humana merger could also boost value-based payment models and accountable care organizations, experts say.

Such large deals also will face considerable antitrust scrutiny from federal regulators, and have led some to voice concerns about how health insurance consolidation will affect consumers.

To learn more:
- read the Star Tribune piece

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