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Aetna and Humana wrangle with U.S. over antitrust trial date

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(Bloomberg) – Health insurers Aetna and Humana will go to trial on Dec. 5 in defense of their planned $37 billion merger, which the U.S. government has said would increase consumer costs.

The decision on the trial’s timing came after the Justice Department tried to persuade U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington to delay the start until January, after the companies’ self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to complete the deal. The judge said he expected a ruling around the middle of January.

The U.S. Justice Department sued to block that tie-up and the unrelated $48 billion merger of Anthem and Cigna Corp. last month, contending that those combinations would reduce the number of national health insurers from five to three, including the market leader UnitedHealth Group Inc., to the detriment of consumers.

The companies dispute assertions that their planned mergers would result in public harm, contending that lawyers for the U.S. are mistaken about their market definitions.

Aetna is based in Hartford, Connecticut, and Humana in Louisville, Kentucky.