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5. Political Cartoon: 'Speakin' My Language'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Speakin' My Language'" by Dan Piraro.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

CMS QUALITY RATING SYSTEM NOT EMBRACED BY ALL HOSPITALS

The safety net view:
Caring for sickest patients
Doesn’t get you stars.

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Summaries Of The News:

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6. Justice Department Sues To Block Health Care Mega-Mergers

The department says the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna deals would lead to higher prices and reduced benefits for consumers.

The New York Times: U.S. Sues To Block Anthem-Cigna And Aetna-Humana Mergers
Within a three-week span last summer, four of the five biggest health insurers announced two mergers totaling $85 billion. Suddenly, what was five would be three, reshaping the industry. But on Thursday, antitrust regulators said, Not so fast. United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced that the government had filed lawsuits to block the deals, between Aetna and Humana and Anthem and Cigna. (Picker and Abelson, 7/21)

The Washington Post: Justice Department Sues To Block Two Health Care Mega-Mergers
“These mergers may increase the profits of Aetna and Anthem. But they would do so at the expense of consumers, employers and health professionals across the country, inflicting costs that cannot be measured in dollars alone,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a press conference to discuss the suits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (Merle and Johnson, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Files Suits Seeking To Block Insurer Deals
Both lawsuits argue the mergers create collective problems. Justice officials indicated that they would seek to have the two cases tried together in front of the same judge. The lawsuits use identical language arguing the deals would eliminate “two innovative competitors”—Cigna and Humana—“at a time when the industry is experimenting with new ways to lower health-care costs.” (Kendall and Wilde Mathews, 7/21)

USA Today: Antitrust Suits Aim To Block Two Health Care Mergers
Eleven states and the District of Columbia joined the attempt to block the Anthem deal, which would combine the nation's second- and fourth-largest insurers. Eight states and D.C. joined the suit to block the Aetna deal, which would combine the third and fifth largest. (Bomey, 7/21)

Politico: DOJ Files Lawsuits To Block Mergers Of Insurance Giants
In statement, Anthem called the DOJ lawsuit "an unfortunate and misguided step backwards for access to affordable healthcare for America" and promised to challenge the decision in court. It also left open the possibility of negotiating an agreement with DOJ to let the merger go through. Its partner in the $54 billion merger, Cigna, said it now believes the deal won't close before 2017, "if at all." Aetna and Humana, in a joint statement, also promised to fight the DOJ lawsuit. (Cook, 7/21)

Reuters: Aetna, Humana Map Legal Strategy To Salvage Merger
Aetna vowed to fight “to the very end” after the Department of Justice filed suit earlier on Thursday to block the merger, which had been in the works for more than a year. Antitrust reviewers say the combination will hurt consumers and the companies' proposed fix - selling some health plans to a competitor - is insufficient. (Humer, 7/22)

Los Angeles Times: Obama Administration Moves To Block Health Insurance Mega-Mergers
The lawsuits are unlikely to end maneuvering in the health insurance industry, as health plans try to bolster their positions in a fast-changing industry still being reordered by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. In the last year alone, Los Angeles-based HealthNet merged with Centene Corp., a leading Medicaid plan. And Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente acquired Washington state’s Group Health Cooperative, another well-regarded nonprofit plan. (Levey and Puzzanghera, 7/21)

USA Today: Hospitals, Doctors Funded Consumer Opposition To Insurance Mergers
Hospital and doctor groups helped fund the consumer opposition to the two big health insurer mergers the Justice Department sued to block Thursday. Hospitals, which have been merging fast and furiously on their own, jump started the campaign against the mergers of Aetna and Humana and Anthem and Cigna by funding the Campaign for Consumer Choice with unions. Insurers said they needed to consolidate to deal more effectively with ever-larger hospital companies, which have also been gobbling up doctors' practices. (O'Donnell, 7/21)

Morning Consult: Many Medical Groups, Lawmakers Praise DOJ Effort To Block Insurance Mergers
Medical groups largely lauded the Justice Department’s decision to file lawsuits attempting to block two proposed health insurer mergers. ... “Allowing commercial health insurers to become too big and exert control over the delivery of health care would be bad for patients and vitality of the nation’s health care system,” AMA President Andrew Gurman said in a statement. “With existing competition in health insurance markets already at alarmingly low levels, federal officials have a strong obligation to enforce antitrust laws that prohibit harmful mergers and foster a more competitive market place that will operate in the patients’ best interests.” Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack also praised the filings: “The mergers would have given the newly combined companies far too much power over the health insurance market, allowing them to dictate prices with little fear of competition.” (McIntire, 7/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Antitrust Suits Could Upend Health Insurers’ Strategies
If the Justice Department wins its two health-insurance antitrust cases, the four companies involved would face business challenges as they move forward alone. All four— Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp.—would be left without the additional scale that they said would help them pare costs and boost their products. They would remain substantially smaller than the industry’s largest player by revenue, UnitedHealth Group Inc., and could turn to other smaller deals to gain at least some heft in key markets. (Wilde Mathews, 7/21)

Politico Pro: Experts: DOJ Lawsuits Could Empower More Aggressive Moves Against Health Care
The Obama administration just brought the biggest case against health insurers in decades — even as it's mired in a losing streak against hospitals. The Justice Department's move to sue four health insurers on Thursday, on grounds that their mergers would lead to higher premiums and hurt patients' access, was hailed across the health care sector as necessary — except by the insurers themselves, of course. (Diamond, 7/21)

7. States Join Federal Antitrust Effort Against Anthem-Cigna Deal

The District of Columbia and 11 states, including California, New Hampshire and Tennessee, have joined the Justice Department's lawsuit.

KQED: California Attorney General Joins Federal Suit To Block Anthem-Cigna Merger
California Attorney General Kamala Harris is joining a federal Justice Department antitrust lawsuit to block the proposed health insurance mega-merger between Anthem and Cigna, a consolidation that would create the country’s largest health insurer. While Harris acknowledged that mergers can create benefits for consumers, this deal “does not strike that balance and would drive up costs for consumers and reduce access to quality healthcare for millions of Californians,” she said in a statement. The lawsuit was filed by the Justice Department and attorneys general in nine other states, in addition to California. (Aliferis, 7/21)