The Department of Justice (DOJ) is considering taking steps to block UnitedHealth Group’s planned acquisition of Change Healthcare Inc., according to press reports. Experts say the DOJ has a strong case — and that if UnitedHealth’s Optum division continues to pursue the transaction in spite of legal action, the suit could drag on for years.

In March, Change Healthcare and UnitedHealth received a request for additional information about their proposed tie-up from the DOJ, signaling that the department would be closely scrutinizing the deal. The American Hospital Association (AHA) sent a letter a few days before the announcement “respectfully request[ing] that [DOJ] conduct a thorough investigation of the proposed transaction because it threatens to reduce competition for the sale of health care information technology services to hospitals and other health care providers.” Legal experts and health care insiders agree with the AHA’s take on the deal.

“I don’t often find myself on the same side as the AHA,” Michael Abrams, principal of Numerof & Associates, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT. “But I do have to agree. Change is getting all this data on what [is in] the provider bill — how much is each service, and what do they get paid from whatever payer? When it comes time to, on [UnitedHealth’s] insurance side, negotiate an agreement with a provider organization, they [would] already know what the competition would have paid them. They [could] model it out with [Change’s] data.”

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