Urgent: Aetna threatened to quit exchanges if DOJ challenged $37 billion merger with Humana, according to CEO Bertolini letter

That’s according to a new Huffington Post story, which today cited a letter Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini sent to the Obama Administration on July 5 — 16 days before the Justice Department sued to block the merger on antitrust grounds.

Mark Bertolini

The Post obtained the letter through a Freedom of Information Act request. Aetna’s letter was in response to a Justice Department question about how any decision on the proposed merger would affect Aetna’s willingness to offer insurance through health-care exchanges under Obamacare.

The letter appears to contract a Bertolini statement late Monday, where he blamed anticipated losses on the Hartford insurer’s decision to exit nearly 70% of the exchange markets it’s been serving; that pullout will come next year.

When reporters asked Aetna whether it was also reacting to DOJ’s attempt to stop its merger with Humana, “company officials brushed off the questions,” the Post says, citing accounts in the Hartford CourantPolitico and USA Today.

A spokesperson for Aetna said the decision to roll back the coverage was not because of the DOJ’s lawsuit, but rather realizing the full details of the losses, according to a separate story by Business Insider based on the Post account.

Paired with some looming rate increases for next year’s health plans, the Post story today says, “the abrupt departure of Aetna has triggered new worries that Obamacare ― a subsidized public-private system of health insurance plans competing for beneficiaries ― is in serious trouble and may even be unsustainable.”

Letter: Aetna supports ACA, but…

In his letter, Bertolini says Aetna has been “a steadfast and strong supporter of the developing public exchange business and the Administration’s efforts to expand healthcare to all Americans. . . . The acquisition of Humana puts Aetna in a significantly better position to continue and expand its support.

“Unfortunately,” his letter continues, “a challenge by the DOJ to that acquisition and/or the DOJ successfully blocking the transaction would have a negative financial impact on Aetna and would impair Aetna’s ability to continue its support, leaving Aetna with no choice but to take actions to steward its financial health.”

Humana and Aetna logos 250“Specifically,” Bertolini writes, “if the DOJ sues to enjoin the transaction, we will immediately take action to reduce our 2017 exchange footprint. We currently plan, as part of our strategy following the acquisition, to expand from 15 states in 2016 to 20 states in 2017. However, if we are in the midst of litigation over the Humana transaction, given the risks described above, we will not be able to expand to the five additional states.

“In addition, we would also withdraw from at least five additional states where generating a market return would take too long for us to justify, given the costs associated with a potential break- up of the transaction. In other words, instead of expanding to 20 states next year, we would reduce our presence to no more than 10 states.”

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