Anthem tells judge Cigna deal will help health insurance market

Anthem Inc. said its proposed $48 billion merger with rival health insurer Cigna Corp. will lower consumer costs and extend coverage to more people, in response to a U.S. lawsuit seeking to block the deal.

The Indianapolis-based company also said the combined carrier would fortify the online insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act at a time when other insurers are withdrawing from them, according to papers filed late Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Anthem’s “acquisition of Cigna will significantly increase consumers’ access to the exchanges with the combined firm entering into new territories in nine states where the two firms are not currently participating,” according to the filing. With operations in 14 states, Anthem is the largest member of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

The Justice Department sued to stop the Anthem-Cigna deal on June 22, the same day it also sought to block Aetna Inc.’s $37 billion bid for Humana Inc., saying the tie-ups will cut the number of major American health insurance companies from five to three, raising costs and reducing competition.

Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call Wednesday that he plans to extend the agreement to buy Cigna to the end of April. The trial, which the company has asked the judge to set for October, is likely to last about four months, he said.

Anthem is the first of the four insurers to respond to the U.S. lawsuits. On Monday, the company asked U.S. District Judge John D. Bates to fast-track the case, setting the trial in about three months, with a decision about a month later.

Cigna, based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, said last week it would review its options under the merger agreement.

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