Federal judge sets Aug 1 trial date for government challenge of UnitedHealth deal

FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of the UnitedHealth Group appears on the side of one of their office buildings in Santa Ana, California

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The federal judge hearing the Justice Department's fight to block UnitedHealth Group's $8 billion deal to buy Change Healthcare said on Thursday that the trial would start on August 1.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to ask a judge to stop the deal in February, saying it would give the largest U.S. health insurer access to its competitors' data and ultimately push up healthcare costs.

Judge Carl Nichols, who was nominated by then-President Donald Trump, said that the trial would last 12 days with the Justice Department allotted seven days and the companies five.

The companies had asked for the trial to start around June 20 while the government had suggested August 24.

In their answer to the government's complaint, UnitedHealth and Change said that one of concerns that the government had about the deal would be moot because they planned to sell Change's claims editing business, which they advertise as a way to "improve payment accuracy, reduce appeals, and reap both medical and administrative savings."

The companies said that they would fight the government on the other harm allegedly caused by the merger. The government had said that UnitedHealth could misuse data from Change's network and hoard innovations so as to better compete in selling health insurance to big corporations.

"Plaintiffs' hypothetical speculation about data and innovations ignores stark market realities and is entirely inconsistent with UHG's long history," the companies said in their answer to the government complaint.

UnitedHealth announced the all-cash deal in January 2021, saying it would help streamline administrative and payment processes.

UnitedHealth and Change Healthcare offer competing software for processing healthcare claims and together serve 38 of the top-40 health insurers in the country, the Justice Department said in the complaint. They would have at least 75% of that market, it said.

(Reporting by Diane BartzEditing by Alexandra Hudson)