Big news: in a $69 billion deal, CVS Health Corp. plans to buy Aetna Inc. The AP story by James F. Peltz says the move “would shake up healthcare industry.”
Should we worry?
Because corporations aren’t cancerous, growth and consolidation are not to be feared as such.
But speaking of cancerous growths . . . the federal government will not likely take the news of the merger with the tranquility of a Taoist sage.
Over at Forbes, last month, Bruce Japsen predicted that the deal wouldn’t go through, arguing that “a full-blown merger of the healthcare giants would be complicated and unlikely given recent antitrust scrutiny in the sector and given that the drugstore chain is already going into business with an Aetna rival, Anthem.”
Government antitrust to the rescue?
No. We may have been schooled to believe that antitrust “protects competition,” but it has always limited competition, instead. Antitrust was always about fear — of bigness. It was definitely not designed to help consumers. The classic case is the infamous break-up of Standard Oil, which produced more fuel while lowering prices — even as it grew humongous.* Standard Oil grew because it satisfied consumer demand. Which is what businesses are for.
And yet government broke it to pieces, using antitrust rationales, for the benefit of some producers, some businesses.
Think of it as crony capitalism in action.
So, my remaining question runs like this: is the CVS/Aetna merger a response to pure market demand, or as a way to wiggle around insane state and federal regulations?
Health care in America is sick. The merger is not likely the cure. But it would not kill the patient.
We have government for that.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.
* For background, consult the studies of economist Dominick T. Armentano.