Health

When Aetna announced its move to buy Louisville born-and-bred insurer Humana last year, more than a few antitrust sirens sounded.

The $37 billion deal would partner two of the nation’s five-biggest health insurance companies. It comes at a time of mega-merger mania that’s also seen Anthem and Cigna — also on that top-5 list — attempting to join forces. And the wave of mergers is the first since the Affordable Care Act fundamentally changed health insurance delivery.

So there are some unknowns, which is causing consternation. The American Medical Association and American Hospital Association oppose the mergers over worries they would raise prices and reduce competition, and some states legislators are now considering public hearings on them.

Kentucky’s insurance commissioner approved the Aetna-Humana deal without any public hearings at all and after only a phone call with an economist who reviewed it. Humana employs more than 12,000 people in Louisville alone.

Like Anthem-Cigna, the Aetna-Humana deal is under the review of federal regulators at the Justice Department. So it likely comes as no surprise that Aetna is hiring lobbyists. But exactly who it’s hiring is illuminating.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle joined the lobbyist ranks for the first time since holding that office, signing on to lobby on behalf of Aetna earlier this year.

Daschle, a Democrat, was Obama’s pick to become Health and Human Services Secretary in 2009, and he would’ve helped shepherd the development of the ACA in the first-term administration. (Daschle pulled out after a dispute about unpaid taxes.)

According to his federal filing, Daschle will be lobbying on that very law. He won’t be lobbying the Obama administration specifically on the Aetna-Humana merger, according to a statement from his firm to the International Business Times.

However, Aetna has plenty of lobbyists already working on that, including Mallory McDaniel, a former policy adviser for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

From the IB Times:

The filings of the other five outside firms — Bloom Strategic Counsel, CGCN Group, West Front Strategies, Empire Consulting Group and the Gibson Group — mention the merger. Federal records show Aetna also employed four other lobbying firms on general health care policy matters.

In a statement to WFPL News, Aetna spokeswoman Kristine Grow said Daschle’s knowledge of the health care system was a reason for his hiring.

“Tom Daschle shares Aetna’s commitment to health care transformation,” she said. “His deep understanding of the health care system and record of success in making improvements that benefit people’s everyday lives makes him an ideal partner in our efforts to build a healthier world.”

A spokesman for Humana did not return a request for comment.

Grow said Aetna still plans to close the deal in the second half of this year, meaning it’s on track with earlier estimates. If the merger is consummated, Aetna would become the second-largest managed care company in the U.S.