Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Red fish/Blue fish, Big fish/Gulp!

Well, it used to be a dog-eat-dog world out there, but lately the prevailing metaphor would seem to be big fish eating smaller ones. There's always been a certain amount of consolidation in the insurance biz, but that appears to be heating up of late as The ObamaTax kicks into high gear. Cases in point:

■ Anthem eyeing Cigna and/or Humana: "Anthem Inc. has explored a takeovers of smaller health-insurance rivals Cigna and Humana ... Humana has also drawn interest from Aetna Inc."

I believe this is known as "jockeying for position."

■ United Healthcare pursuing Aetna: "UnitedHealth and Aetna on Monday night joined the list of health giants said to be exploring a potential merger"

Given that Anthem and UHC are the two 800# gorillas in the room, it no longer seems improbable that someday, in the perhaps not-too-distant future, we'll be down to two mega-carriers. On the one hand, this would be good for stockholders of both (and, one supposes, those of the smaller companies they swallowed up).

On the other hand, this doesn't bode well for fans of a competitive, free market. Competition breeds innovation and helps push down costs, but it's not clear to me that having two such behemoths left as the last ones standing would be to society's benefit.

On the gripping hand, it would certainly make the transition to single-payer (the true goal of the ACA) that much easier.
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