After delivering big money to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, health insurance giant Anthem is now pressing the new administration to settle a federal lawsuit blocking its controversial merger with Cigna, according to new court documents. Meanwhile, Trump has appointed an Anthem lobbyist to a top legal post in the White House -- a job that could position him to take over the Justice Department’s antitrust unit that may ultimately decide the fate of the merger.
Following a state ethics probe in Connecticut, President Obama’s Justice Department moved last year to stop the merger, which critics say would limit medical care options and raise prices for millions of Americans. But only weeks after a federal court blocked the transaction, Anthem lawyers told a Delaware judge that a “resolution with a new DOJ” under Trump could allow the transaction to go forward.
“We're fighting for it,” said Anthem lawyer Glenn Kurtz, according to court documents first noted by Modern Healthcare. “And we're reaching out to DOJ, which is new.”
Justice Department officials typically argue that the antitrust division is insulated from political influence: As former Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer said in a 2015 speech, “antitrust enforcement has been successfully nonpartisan” and “political affiliation means little in this job.” Anthem’s argument, though, appears to hinge on a hope that political intervention from the White House may shape the Justice Department’s antitrust enforcement decisions.
The vice president, for instance, does not have any statutory authority over the department. Yet, during the Delaware court proceedings last week -- in which Anthem sought to prevent Cigna from pulling out of the deal -- the company’s lawyers specifically pinned their hopes for a Justice Department settlement on Pence, noting that his gubernatorial administration originally gave its blessing to the transaction.
“There’s reasons that we believe the merger is still able to clear,” Kurtz said. “Notably, now-Vice President Pence was supportive of the transaction as the governor of Indiana.”
Pence’s support for the deal came after the Indiana-based company, its subsidiaries and its lobbying firms had become major donors to Pence's campaigns and to his state party. In all, Pence’s state and federal campaigns have received more than $100,000 from Anthem, its subsidiaries, its employees, and employees of its outside lobbying firms, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money In State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics. Those donors delivered more than $428,000 to the Indiana Republican Party during Pence’s runs for Congress and governor.
According to data from PoliticalMoneyLine, the companies also gave more than $4 million to the Republican Governors Association during Pence’s gubernatorial campaigns. The RGA financially supported Pence, who was on the group’s executive committee and assisted it in fundraising.
In court last week, Anthem also cited new Attorney General Jeff Sessions in arguing that there is still a chance for the merger to move forward. Sessions’ Senate campaign committees have received $14,150 from Anthem and its lobbying firms. During Sessions’ election runs in 2002, 2008 and 2014, the company and its lobbying firms delivered $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Along with any influence that may come from its campaign contributions, Anthem has potential links directly into the White House and Justice Department through one of its former top lobbyists, Makan Delrahim. In the last year, he has gone from lobbying for Anthem on the merger to serving as Trump’s deputy White House counsel. Before working for Anthem, Delrahim helped run the Justice Department’s antitrust division under President George W. Bush and was a top staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- a panel on which Sessions was a longtime senior member.
Anthem hired Delrahim and another former Bush Justice Department official, William Moschella, one day before the company publicly announced the merger proposal in July of 2015. Federal records reviewed by International Business Times show that throughout 2015 and 2016, Moschella and Delrahim lobbied on “Antitrust issues associated with Anthem's proposed acquisition of Cigna.” Anthem spent $370,000 on Delrahim and Moschella over 15 months in 2015 and 2016, according to the lobbying records.
Bloomberg News and Politico have recently reported that Delrahim may be in line to once again run the Justice Department’s antitrust division. In that case, he would return to the antitrust unit just after lobbying for a company facing litigation from that same division.