President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, joined by the Presidential Cabinet members, pose for a Cabinet portrait Thursday, April 1, 2021, in the Grand Foyer of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The Biden administration in recent weeks has launched an antitrust investigation into the health care giant UnitedHealth Group following a string of other antitrust suits by the federal government, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The investigation from the Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into whether the relationship between UnitedHealth’s insurance unit and the company’s health services arm, Optum, is stifling competition in the broader industry, according to people who spoke to the WSJ. The news of the investigation comes just one day after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a lawsuit seeking to block the merger of Kroger and Albertsons, continuing the string of antitrust actions taken by both the FTC and the DOJ.

UnitedHealth was previously the target of an antitrust challenge from the DOJ in 2022 in its bid to acquire Change Healthcare, with that deal being completed in 2022, according to the WSJ. The DOJ has also been critical of UnitedHealth’s current $3.3 billion bid to acquire home-health company Amedisys.

The health care giant’s insurance unit currently provides coverage for around 53 million people through employer plans, Medicare and Medicaid. Currently, around 90,000 physicians, a number of surgery centers and other assets are under Optum.

The Biden administration has pursued a number of top companies for anticompetitive practices, including Amazon, which the FTC alleges unlawfully maintains a monopoly by using strategies that prevent lowering prices.

Federal regulators were unable to stop a $68.7 billion merger of Microsoft and Activision, with a judge denying a motion in July 2023 to block the acquisition. In 2021, a federal judge dismissed an antitrust complaint from the FTC against Facebook, alleging that it had a monopoly over personal social networking services.

Some private insurers, including UnitedHealth, are likely to benefit from a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden that enables Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the prices of certain drugs. AARP, an organization that represents the interests of retired Americans and received money from UnitedHealth, has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting the provision.

The DOJ declined to comment to the Daily Caller News Foundation. UnitedHealth did not respond to a request to comment.

Will Kessler on February 27, 2024

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