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States step up efforts to review health insurer mergers

Consumer, provider groups call for public hearings on the deals

The new year has brought a renewed focus on state regulators' role in reviewing the pending health insurer mergers while the federal government continues its own probe of the mega-deals.

A group of about 15 state attorneys general now have joined the Department of Justice's investigation of the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers, Reuters reports. The group includes Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts and Tennessee--though the news service was unable to determine the other states involved.

The DOJ ultimately has the final say on whether the deals are approved, but states gather and provide data to aid the federal government's investigation, the article notes, and the addition of state officials to the effort highlights the complicated nature of the reviews.

The move comes as consumer advocates and provider groups increase pressure on officials in key states to scrutinize the mergers. A coalition of consumer advocates sent a letter Monday to Virginia Insurance Commissioner Jacqueline K. Cunningham, asking her to hold a public hearing to address concerns about the mergers. Their request follows a letter sent by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, asking Cunningham's department to "undertake a complete and diligent investigation and hearing" regarding the mergers.

California is also expected to be a key state in the review of the mergers, spurring consumer advocates to put pressure on officials there to flex their regulatory muscle.

In addition, the American Antitrust Institute wrote in a letter Monday to Assistant Attorney General William J. Baer that the DOJ should block the deals, arguing that "the mergers stand to reverse the progress realized under the 2010 Affordable Care Act in delivering the benefits of more competition to consumers."

The American Medical Association has also recommended regulators block the mergers, and the American Hospital Association has voiced opposition to the deals.

The merging insurers, however, have continued to promote the merits of consolidation, and have invested in lobbyists to plead their case on Capitol Hill.

To learn more:
- here's the consumer groups' letter
- read the VHHA letter
- here's the AAI's letter
- read the Reuters report

Related Articles:
California will be key state in fight over health insurer mergers
Advocates urge state insurance regulators to scrutinize mergers
Aetna-Humana deal will face scrutiny from state authorities
Insurers pull out all the stops to win feds' approval of merger deals
American Medical Association urges feds to block insurer mergers